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Bike trails get back on track

The Department of Conservation [DOC] is finally changing its mountain biking policy in a breakthrough for Wairarapa’s proposed mountain bike trails.

DOC has confirmed it is reviewing its policy to make it easier for Wairarapa Mountain Bike Trails Trust to apply to build trails in Tararua Forest Park.

DOC approached Wairarapa biker Mike Milburn seven years ago to begin planning off-road trails in the Forest Park.

Milburn and other mountain bikers formed the Trust, which in 2018 commissioned a detailed feasibility study and business case for three proposed trails.

The proposed trails were a new track from Remutaka Summit to Bucks Rd reserve behind Featherston, at Mount Holdsworth Mountain Bike Park and between Kiriwhakapapa Rd and Mikimiki Rd north of Masterton.

The feasibility study said the proposed 30km Remutaka Descent could become a “nationally iconic trail”.

The project received letters of endorsement from the three district councils, both Wairarapa iwi, Wairarapa DOC office, and several other community organisations and schools.

Trust chair Jonathan Hooker said they had begun talks with local businesses for sponsorship and funding, and the process to bring world-class trails to the region was well underway.

Unfortunately, old legislation and red tape put an almost immediate halt to the plan when in 2019, Wellington DOC reviewed its Conservation Management Strategy [CMS], a policy document that it only updates every 10 to 15 years.

Hooker said that old DOC law dating back to the 1980s classed mountain bikes as vehicles and prohibited their use in Forest Parks, except in areas specified in the CMS.

“It was unfortunately too early in the project for us to get our proposed trail locations into the CMS before 2019.

“There was no will or a way at Wellington DOC, so unless something changed nationally, our project was dead in the water for at least another decade,” Hooker said.

However, pressure from several mountain bike groups has led to DOC agreeing to review every regional CMS in New Zealand. Bike Taupo committee member Rowan Sapsford has been part of the group lobbying DOC nationally.

“We have good relationships with local DOC, but not so much at the national office. DOC has got opportunities to review their policy in a more enabling way if they choose,” Sapsford said.

A DOC spokesperson said it intends to conduct a partial review of the 16 regional CMS documents to streamline the process for groups applying to build trails. The policy will flip the current rules for application.

Currently, groups can only apply to build trails on DOC land in CMS-specified locations.

After the review process, groups will be allowed to apply to build anywhere in a Forest Park except areas where the CMS specifically prohibits mountain bikes.

“This is the first time we have proposed undertaking a nationwide CMS partial review process, and it is complex.

“We recognise this is important work and are committed to doing it as efficiently as possible.

“Although we can’t say what the timeframe for this work would be at this time, a partial review of the Wellington CMS to improve the ability to consider biking proposals will be quicker than waiting for the next CMS review,” the spokesperson said.

Founding Trust member Mike Milburn said he was excited by the changes.

“I think that a timeframe would be great, but we also accept that it isn’t a straightforward process.”

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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