Cycling trails get a boost

The growing importance of cycle trails to tourism was recognised by the Government yesterday when Prime Minister John Key announced $8 millon worth of maintenance funding over four years for the New Zealand Cycle Trail Great Rides and an additional $500,000 for the Around the Mountains trail.

The extra funding for the Around the Mountains trail means the Southland District Council can complete the first stage of construction by the end of May and the township of Athol will be included.

The expectation is the Government's funding will be matched by at least 50% by local government ''and other interested parties''.

Mr Key said the funding was recognition of the importance of cycleways but it could only be accessed for significant weather damage or major improvements.

The Around the Mountains cycle trail, which is part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail Great Rides, received an additional boost because a route change, resulting from a land dispute, increased its overall cost. Southland Mayor Gary Tong said the additional funding would ensure the progression of the cycle trail.

''The sooner Southland can benefit from the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail, the better it is for our communities and the people who live in them.''

Mr Key estimated 97,000 people tackled New Zealand's Great Rides in January alone and last year the trails experienced a 56% average growth rate in the number of users.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said Mr Key's announcement was ''welcome'' news for the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail. The council, along with trail supporters and backers, had ''ongoing'' discussions with the Government to secure additional funding, and the council would continue to work with the Government to create a fully off-road trail.

Initially, the trail received $2.75 million in funding from the New Zealand Cycle Trail fund in 2010, but that has already been spent, along with more than another $1.25 million in grants, donations and in-kind work.

About 40% of the trail, between Mt Cook/Aoraki and Oamaru, was off-road, but a further $2 million was needed to take the whole 312km trail off-road, he said.

Clutha Gold Charitable Trust chairman Rod Peirce called the news ''quite exciting''. This week, the Central Otago District Council agreed to include $100,000 in its draft annual plan for general maintenance of district cycle trails.

Roxburgh trail trust chairman Stephen Jeffery said the fund was good news but he wanted to see the details about what projects were eligible.

''I'd like to see what the conditions are.''