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The Otago Central Rail Trail, New Zealand's first rail trail, has been officially incorporated into the national cycle trail network.
The 150km trail between Clyde and Middlemarch was opened in February 2000 and was yesterday recognised as the trail that helped inspire the national cycle trail network by being added to the list of the country's great rides.
"The idea was to build a nationwide network of cycle trails that would emulate the benefits of the Otago Central Rail Trail and promote New Zealand as an international cycling destination," Prime Minister John Key said.
Special unveiling ceremonies took place at Middlemarch and Clyde, as well as speeches at Oturehua by Department of Conservation Otago Conservator Marian van der Goes, rail trail trust chairwoman Daphne Hull, Central Otago Mayor Tony Lepper, Green Party cycle trail representative Kevin Hague, and Minister of Conservation Kate Wilkinson.
Mr Lepper said the trail had saved the small towns along it's route and "brought vitality and oomph back into the district".
Ms Wilkinson said it was "a testament to the vision and hospitality of the locals and the hard work of all people involved.
"The trail has been a huge success for the local area, the local economy and is really significant nationally and it's a logical step [to have it incorporated into the network]. It's a fantastic flagship." Mrs Hull said she was "delighted but not surprised" by the news.
She said inquiries came from people all around the world who wanted to come and cycle here and now "this gives us another arm to help promote it".
The trail was a joint project between the Department of Conservation and business and community leaders who later formed the Otago Central Rail Trail trust. According to the latest rail trail survey, the trail generated more than $12 million for the local economy and was ridden by 14,100 people in the year May 2010 to April 2011.