Trails trust's 10-year vision fulfilled

Building walking and cycle trails has been all the rage since the New Zealand Cycle Trail had its genesis at a post-GFC jobs summit five years ago. However, the people behind Queenstown's network of trails released their vision for the future 10 years ago. Guy Williams looks at what they hoped for, and how much they have achieved.

Mandy Kennedy.
Mandy Kennedy.
Ten years ago, a group called the Wakatipu Trails Trust released a document outlining a strategy for developing a network of walking and cycling trails in the Queenstown area.

The document observed that despite the resort's myriad adventure activities and products, it was ''outclassed'' by similar destinations when it came to such trails: ''A period of neglect caused by rapid commercial and residential development has left the Wakatipu Basin with a skeletal framework of tracks and paths.''

This fact had been recognised three years earlier by senior staff at the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Department of Conservation (Doc), when they organised a meeting to gauge public interest in creating a network of recreational trails.

This in turn led to setting up the Wakatipu Trails Trust in 2002, and two years later, the release of its 10-year strategy.

Cyclists ride the Lake Hayes Circuit, part of the 110km Queenstown Trail. Photos by Queenstown Trail Trust.
Cyclists ride the Lake Hayes Circuit, part of the 110km Queenstown Trail. Photos by Queenstown Trail Trust.
The trust is now known as the Queenstown Trails Trust, and its CEO, Mandy Kennedy, said that 10-year vision had been realised.

Opening in October 2012, The Queenstown Trail consists of 110km of tracks linking Gibbston, Arrowtown, Lake Hayes, Frankton and Queenstown Bay.

It crosses three major rivers - the Shotover, Kawarau and the Arrow - and runs beside Lake Wakatipu and Lake Hayes.

It takes its place as one of the 23 ''Great Rides'' of the national cycle trail network, which since its launch in 2009, has grown to more than 2500km.

Mrs Kennedy said the foresight of the trust's original members to secure access and easements to key land at a time of rapid development was crucial.

In what she called the ''Queenstown way'', the trust's main partners, the council and Doc, took a ''forward-thinking and proactive'' stance to the enterprise.

Riders approach Arrowtown on the Countryside Ride trail.
Riders approach Arrowtown on the Countryside Ride trail.
That was years before cycle trail building became fashionable throughout the country, as a result of a ''rush of blood to the head'' - the phrase used by deputy prime minister and Clutha-Southland MP Bill English to describe Prime Minister John Key's promise at an Employment Summit in 2009 to spend $50 million on building cycle trails.

Mrs Kennedy said another key ingredient had been landowners, without whom many of the routes making up the Queenstown Trail would never have progressed beyond lines on a map.

The generosity and support of more than two dozen landowners - including individuals, companies and government bodies - had been ''second-to-none''.

However, there is no substitute for cold, hard cash. Securing a $2 million grant from the national cycleway fund in 2010 gave the trust ''a really big kick'' that allowed it to massively accelerate trail development, she said.

Under the leadership of then-CEO Kaye Parker, the trust raised another $3 million and set in motion a three-year effort to develop 110km of interlinked trails.

Based on trip count data, the trust estimated that from opening day on October 18, 2012 until the end of June this year, there were more than 280,000 ''journeys'' on the Queenstown Trail.

Compared with other trails on the national cycleway network, those numbers were ''phenomenal'', but had to be seen in the context of Queenstown being a major tourist destination, Mrs Kennedy said.

The trust could have wound itself up after completing the Queenstown Trail, but after raising and spending more than $7,500,000 to date, it was proving to be a successful, sustainable business model.

That model included buying the Motatapu offroad sports event last year to generate regular income for trail upgrades and development.

A $369,000 upgrade of the Gibbston River Trail will be officially opened in October, and work is now under way to upgrade a loop around the golf course on the Kelvin Peninsula Trail.

The creation of a strategy for the next 10 years was also on the trust's to-do list, she said.

''You do need those long-term visions - that stick in the sand.''

She welcomed the Government's announcement on Monday of an additional $100 million, over four years, for urban cycleways.

She was waiting for the details of the funding criteria to see ''what opportunity it may present for the Wakatipu''.

The last word goes to one of the trust's founding members, Queenstown property developer and golf course designer John Darby.

He says the adaptation of bicycles for riding off-road has resulted in a surge in cycling's popularity that the original trustees never anticipated.

Also unforeseen was the Government's injection of significant funding for trail development since 2009.

The Queenstown Trail was a ''fabulous asset'' and the culmination of ''a lot of hard work by a lot of people''.

Top of his list was Kaye Parker, who was CEO at a critical time in its development.

Creating trails and linkages and dealing with a wide range of private and public players was a ''complex and challenging'' task, and she had made a huge contribution with her ''tenacity and charm''.

Mr Darby said although it was hard to compare the trust's vision of a decade ago with the Queenstown Trail as it was today, it had achieved ''significantly more than originally envisaged''.

 


Happy trails

2002: Wakatipu Trails Trust is established following a community meeting organised by Queenstown Lakes District Council CEO Duncan Field and Department of Conservation Wakatipu area manager Chris Eden to gauge public interest in a network of recreational trails.

2003: Access through Slopehill Rd.

Access through Triangle Link from Domain Rd to Lower Shotover Rd.

2004: Wakatipu Trails Trust strategy released.

2005: Lower Shotover Bridge restoration.

Bridle Trail cleared at river end of Domain Rd.

2007: Opening of Lake Hayes Trail.

2009: Opening of Millbrook Trail.

All-year-round access to council controlled forestry.

Opening of Jardine Park to Jack's Point Trail.

2010: Becomes Queenstown Trails Trust.

Upgrade of Kelvin Peninsula Trail.

Access from Fitzpatrick Rd to Doc recreational reserve.

New Zealand Cycleway grant. Gibbston River Trail opened.

2012: Queenstown Trail opened.

2013: Trust buys Motatapu offroad sports event.

2014: Trust official charity of Queenstown Marathon. Gibbston River Trail upgrade.

Kelvin Peninsula Loop upgrade starts.