Watching the rail trail grow

John Gibson  on his Patearoa property,  which looks out over the Maniototo where the Otago...
John Gibson on his Patearoa property, which looks out over the Maniototo where the Otago Central Rail Trail has revitalised several small towns. Photo by Sarah Marquet.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is something John Gibson has seen blossom into something larger than he ever anticipated. Sarah Marquet talks to the trail trustee and Inland Otago Conservation Award finalist about his work.

What is it about the rail trail that got you interested and continues to interest you?
I was initially asked to join the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust, they wanted people from each area the trail covered. So, Daphne Hull from Alexandra, me from Patearoa and Kate Wilson and Sam Inder from Dunedin.

With regard to the specific things I have done and built for the trail, I guess I got into that because I was good at that sort of thing.

How is the project you are involved in benefiting conservation?
It's probably one of the major things people think about when they think of conservation - the Rail Trail is part of the conservation estate. It was good to see something blossom the way that it has, from nothing to 12,000 to 14,000 people doing it each year. I never expected it to be like that.

What do you get out of your work in conservation; how do you fit in?
I am a member of the trust, we are all volunteers and raise money to help pay for upkeep of the trail. I designed what they are now calling the Gibson Gate.

I built the prototypes and then Doc picked them up. It is a gate, installed beside locked gates on farmland, through which people can ride their bikes.

Other on-trail work includes the building of picnic tables and seats made from railway sleepers and rails and cement work for the likes of the Rail Trail Passport stamp boxes.

What challenges do you face and how do you overcome them?
Well, initially, the challenges were farmers and people that didn't want the trail. A lot of farmers thought it would be intrusive, they didn't want people looking over their back fence.

Today, funding is a bit of a challenge. Also, it might be challenging to find replacements for people if they were to leave this trust.

What would you like to do in the future through conservation?
I don't know specifically, but I do quite a bit in the [Patearoa] village like the walking tracks.

I'm chair of the local ratepayers' association too, so I'm involved in just about everything in the village.



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