Trailblazer’s retirement marked

Clutha Gold Cycling and Walking Trail initiator and trust chairman Rod Peirce has retired from...
Clutha Gold Cycling and Walking Trail initiator and trust chairman Rod Peirce has retired from the trust after nearly 20 years. PHOTO: JULIE ASHER
Build it and they will come could have been coined for the Clutha Gold Cycling and Walking Trail.

As trust members gathered to mark the retirement of the trail’s initiator and first chairman Rod Peirce, memories flowed about the beginning of a now key part of the area’s identity.

Mr Peirce said in 2005 he had cycled the Otago Rail Trail with his Auckland-based brother and went home thinking something similar would be great for the Roxburgh area.

The initial idea to follow the railway was discarded as it had been sold and broken up, making access difficult.

However, a track along the river was the next idea and Mr Peirce ran with it.

A working party was established which eventually led to the trust, which constructed the Clutha Gold Trail.

Initially from Lake Roxburgh dam to Lawrence, Mr Peirce always thought it should go to Milton.

His experience as founding Chief Fire Officer at Millers Flat, a role he held for nearly 20 years, gave him a good grounding in chairing the trust, he said.

He was passionate about the idea and was keen to bring others on board with him. Trust member Colin Turner said he owned the Roxburgh Motels at the time and Mr Peirce turned up to talk to him about the potential for a cycle trail.

"This bloke turned up on his bike and I couldn’t get rid of him."

Murray Paterson, of Waitahuna, said he saw a story in the newspaper about Mr Peirce’s proposal and rang him.

"It took an hour to get rid of him."

A meeting was called in May 2006 and the beginnings of the trail were under way.

Mr Turner, Mr Paterson and Mr Peirce went on expeditions to find the best route for the trail along the Clutha Mata-Au riverbank.

They would get dropped off by jetboat and bushwhack their way through broom and blackberry to mark out the route, Mr Turner said.

It was far from smooth sailing with the 73km of trail crossing 125 parcels of land, easements required across farmland, a group of residents taking the trust to the Environment Court to object to the resource consent for the trail and, of course, the money to build it to be found.

The Central Otago and Clutha District Councils stumped up $10,000 for a feasibility study.

The Central Lakes Trust and Otago Community Trust gave grants of $800,000 and $300,000 respectively but with consents costing $5million and construction another $3.8m there was still a significant shortfall.

Fortunately for the Clutha Gold Trail Trust the then prime minister John Key announced his plan to boost regional tourism with the New Zealand Cycle Trail project to operate a network of cycle trails through the country.

"If John Key hadn’t come along we’d still be working on the Lawrence bit," Mr Paterson said.

Mr Turner remembered sitting at his motels with the trust members trying to decide how much money to apply for.

"We decided to ask for the lot."

They were turned down the first time but were successful on the second round.

It was a point of pride that the Clutha Gold Trail was complete and some of those awarded funding in the first round were not.

The trust was the first in Central Otago to receive funding from the New Zealand Cycle Trail project, with $3.8m from the government.

It was a win for everyone, Mr Paterson said.

"The government got good payback from that."

With more than a quarter of a million people having ridden the trail since it opened in 2013 Mr Peirce’s vision had been fulfilled.

At 87 years old he thought it was time to hand the baton to someone else.

Mr Paterson was ably filling the chairman’s role and with the other trust members was making sure the trail was maintained and promoted, he said.