Challenge for outdoor clubs

The Minister of Conservation has thrown down a challenge to outdoor clubs with $700,000 handed over this month to help volunteers maintain back country huts, tracks and other facilities.

The money gives clubs the chance to put their energy and labour where their mouths are and to do their bit.

The money comes from the Community Conservation Partnership Fund, $26 million over four years, launched in late March to help voluntary organisations take on natural heritage and recreation projects.

In principle the idea is good.

The Department of Conservation provides some wherewithal, and enthusiasts do much of the work.

Given the bureaucracy of any Government department and all the procedures and the staff costs involved, volunteers can often undertake tasks at a tiny fraction of the official cost.

The obvious concern is Doc could use volunteers to abrogate its responsibilities, and that cost cutting just loads its role on to others, albeit with some financial assistance.

But it appears, at least for this latest use of money from the partnership fund, that projects will be undertaken that Doc simply is not doing.

Doc will continue to maintain high use and other facilities, while other groups can explore into the less-used corners to help save huts from neglect or to clear, for example, an out-of-the-way track.

The fund has been received with praise and enthusiasm.

A group called the New Zealand Outdoor Recreation Consortium, itself voluntary, will administer the money with as little paperwork as possible.

The consortium is made up of the Federated Mountain Clubs (a majority of trampers), the NZ Deerstalkers' Association and Trail Fund NZ (mountain bikers).

Together, they represent more than 30,000 people.

Deerstalkers' president Bill O'Leary said the grant would kick-start practical on-the-ground projects.

''It will encourage more people to enjoy our natural environment,'' he said.

This puts the onus back on clubs to be prepared to commit to and carry out various work, going against the trend of the last generation when most of the effort was left to Doc. No doubt - as with almost all clubs, societies and organisations - a dedicated core will have to lead the way.

In some ways, this is a return to earlier generations who, on the whole, were more willing to muck in.

The rewards will not only be better facilities but also - once organised and motivated - a real sense of achievement and camaraderie.

Despite, or maybe because of, such challenges clubs are strengthened when their members labour together on common goals and for the greater good rather than their own direct and immediate pleasure.

It could well be the money goes towards helicopter access, among other expenses.

It could well be, too, that in the future suitably qualified volunteers could help undertake the huts, track and facility inspections that suck up Doc resources.

Opportunities for projects are especially significant in Otago, where so many of the nation's huts and tracks are located and where so much of the land is in the conservation estate.


Saving Dunedin's heritage

The Otago Chamber of Commerce's opposition to the development of the New Zealand Loan Mercantile Agency Co Ltd building for ''mixed use'' is disappointing.

Caution from some neighbouring businesses no doubt helped prompt the chamber, and concerns about ''reverse sensitivity'' are understandable.

And even though a Dunedin City Council planner has recommended the resource consent application be declined, surely there is a way forward.

The rules can be such that prospective and future residents in and close to this industrial area can be obliged not to complain about noise or other potential issues that arise in such a zone.

Russell Lund has developed a plan to save the distinctive, historic and vulnerable agency building - and apartments are a key part of that.

Every effort needs to be made to support owners like him in their endeavours to refurbish and reuse classic Dunedin buildings.

The alternative, especially in this age of fear of earthquakes, is likely to be slow deterioration and eventual demolition.

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