The Department of Conservation (DOC) has expressed concern at unauthorised mountain bike tracking taking place on public conservation land at the Hikuwai Conservation Area, near Albert Town, and the Bannockburn Sluicings Historic Reserve in Cromwell.
“Both reserves offer a diverse range of mountain bike tracks however some in our community think it’s OK to remove vegetation, build unsafe jumps and damage the landscape without seeking consent.” said Operations Manager Mike Tubbs.
“I am disappointed at the escalation in this type of behaviour that has created extra work for staff in reinstating the areas. Building your own track is not a solution and the repair costs are just a waste of public money,” he said.
“This kind of behaviour is inappropriate in a historic reserve, or any conservation lands. It is also an offence under the Conservation Act, punishable by imprisonment or a fine.”
According to DOC, the Hikuwai Conservation Area’s circuit of formed tracks create a real asset for the community, including a junior bike track through dryland kanuka terraces.
Secretary for Bike Wānaka, Jo Goodwin, said that Wānaka’s mountain biking organisation was aware of modifications being made to existing features in the kids area off Gunn Road in the Hikawai reserve, and had communicated to its members that maintenance or modifications in that area were not permitted without DOC consent.
They had been working with DOC, the council and the Albert Town Residents Association for three and a half years to reach an agreement whereby maintenance and modifications could be made to the area - which had “fallen into disrepair” - by Bike Wānaka. A number of obstacles, such as the lack of toilet and water facilities, had prevented it becoming a proper mountain bike park.
Goodwin hoped the opening of new toilet facilities on Gunn Road last week would expedite an agreement with DOC, but said it was “very frustrating” that “every time someone takes matters into their own hands, it sets it back.”
“We desperately need somewhere to build,” she said. “Mountain biking is huge here, but Wānaka is very land-poor for mountain biking because we’re not allowed to do anything.”
Across Otago, DOC land is zoned as conservation land and - with the exceptions of the Deans Bank and Hikuwai trails - mountain bike tracking is not allowed. Any changes to the Ngāi Tahu-owned Sticky Forest land, which is home to more than 30km of mountain bike trails, is also strictly prohibited.
Goodwin said the process to review the zoning of land in Otago had started, but would take “a very long time.” Until then, the amount of purpose-built trails in the area would stay limited.
“There is still amazing mountain biking in the area if you go into the backcountry and follow your nose.”
Read edition 983 of the Wānaka Sun here.