Bike access plan gets thumbs-up

People attending a public meeting in Alexandra vote on whether to make an offer to buy public...
People attending a public meeting in Alexandra vote on whether to make an offer to buy public easement for a section of Matangi Station to the landowners. The public voted near unanimously to proceed with the offer. PHOTO: RUBY SHAW
The Central Otago community have thrown their support behind a proposed plan to buy public easement for popular mountainbiking tracks near Alexandra.

More than 200 people turned out to the Mountain Bikers of Alexandra (MOA) public meeting on Tuesday evening, and another 60 tuned into a livestream, voting to move ahead with the group’s plan to secure access.

MOA president Andrew Dowling told the crowd the expected cost of securing the easement was $1.6million.

Attendees heard the proposal, put together by several MOA members, and aimed at securing public access to the tracks regardless of who owns the Matangi Station pastoral lease.

Following the meeting, MOA gathered confidential, non-binding indications about the financial support the public was prepared to give.

Based on 488 responses, MOA expected public donations to range from $276,000 to $741,300, with a midpoint of $465,150.

Mr Dowling said the support from the community was heartening.

"Getting that response from the public gives us a better mandate to be able to ... look for business sponsorship ... and apply for grants."

The level of support reflected Matangi Station’s importance to the national mountainbiking community, he said.

"We were hoping to be able to reach a wider population — and we have."

The funding indication was incorporated into the offer made to Matangi Station owners the Sanders family on Wednesday at noon, in order to meet the deadline sale.

If the offer was accepted, MOA would confirm the amount offered by the community in the coming weeks, and then seek grants and further funding to make up any shortfall.

"We’re in the running — that’s as much as we know at the moment," Mr Dowling said.

"This is great and it’s wonderful but we’ve got to keep the momentum up."

He said the club, which has more than 500 members, thought it was secure on the site until 2035, when the current recreational permit expires.

The Sanders family hold the recreational permit through Land Information New Zealand. The permit allows a mix of free and paid access to the Matangi Mountain Bike Park.

Late last year the Sanders family put the station, which has been run by the family for 100 years, up for sale.

Central Otago District Council group manager community vision Dylan Rushbrook said serious mountainbikers all knew and loved the "gnarly" terrain of Matangi.

The Sanders family had put huge efforts into working with Tourism Central Otago and event organisers, helping to put Alexandra on the map, he said.

"We genuinely don’t know what [the potential sale] means for future events or even promoting Alexandra as a mountainbiking destination as ... new owners will determine how access to the trails will work or not."

The council supported a public easement over the bike park, and if the proposal went ahead it would work with MOA on how to formalise that, he said.

Mr Dowling said several years ago the Sanders seriously considered banning public access — due to conflict between farming activities and recreational users — before obtaining the recreational permit.

MOA was concerned new owners might exclude public access from the site.

A valuation of the area had been professionally calculated, and that figure was being used as a basis for the purchase price.

An annual family pass to the park costs $400, and a single half that. If the purchase went ahead access would be free to all areas for everyone, Mr Dowling said.

The club would raise maintenance funds through charging corporate users and running events.