Vandalism in Empire Park threatens future of free 12-month trial

The free-play cycling zone within Wembley Downs may be closed within a week following reports of fires, trail cycling, and unapproved activity.

Cambridge City Council will vote Tuesday evening to either support the process for another six months or cut it drastically with a Friday, July 1 deadline.

In December, a 95-by-45-meter free play zone in Cambridge city’s Empire Park was approved for a 12-month trial by the city council, permitting local children to do what they’d already done: cycle through the nature reserve.

Just six months after the trial, residents say fires have been set in the area, and litter and vegetation are damaged.

Camera confidence of a campfire in the free play zone of Empire Park. Credit: Pip Waller

In late May, a motorized trail bike was reported in reserve.

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When the council approved the 12-month trial, opinions were divided on whether a free play area in Empire Park was ‘appropriate’ for the site.

Mayor Keri Shannon was an avid supporter. She presented the trial, suggesting the area as an alternative for children who had built sand hills and cycle paths for cycling in areas of “unused empty bushland” during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“The proposed Empire Park trial acknowledges the concerns of all park users and seeks to address them by delineating a separate zone for children to play freely on their bikes,” Ms. Shannon wrote in a report to councilors in December.

“The proposed trial suggests using the existing cleared areas and will have a negligible impact on the surrounding bushland.”

Camera IconDanger tape strewn across multiple fallen trees in the area. Credit: Pip Waller

Empire Park

City guards patrol the area and conduct weekly audits to document their observations so that the trial can be reviewed.

Rangers were called to the area in April to identify three grass trees set on fire and in May to place barriers around unauthorized holes that had been dug.

Camera Iconkids Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper

When PerthNow visited the clearance area last week, there were only traces of bicycle tires, warning tape on fallen trees, and hints of a campfire.

Empire Avenue resident Vic Richards spoke at the Community and Resources Committee meeting on June 20, stating that the damage and uncivil behavior in the free play zone “were apparent from the start.”

“And it has continued and deteriorated since then,” said Mr. Richards.

“There have been ongoing acts of vandalism, including the presence of motorcycles, which have caused irreversible damage to the environment.

“It’s unacceptable, and the issues are much more related to what the administration report indicates.”

If this continues, the council will consider installing a fence to formalize access points and prevent motorbikes from entering the area.

John D.Mayne
I love to write. When I wasn’t writing for my school newspaper or college blog, I was writing personal essays and journal entries. Then I discovered I loved to write. In college, I wrote for my school paper and my campus radio show. I started doing freelance writing for the Huffington Post in 2009. Then, I joined the team at Newsmyth as a writer/editor. Now, I spend most of my time writing for Newsmyth and as a guest blogger on a handful of other blogs. When I’m not writing, I like to read, travel, cook, and spend time with friends.