Track ‘symbolises we haven't forgotten the Pike 29’, says father of victim

Members of the Pike River families gather at the entrance of the Pike 29 Memorial Track for its...
Members of the Pike River families gather at the entrance of the Pike 29 Memorial Track for its opening yesterday. PHOTO: BRENDON MCMAHON
A track in honour of the 29 victims of the Pike River mining disaster has opened after years of challenges to create an enduring memorial.

The Pike 29 Memorial Track was formally dedicated yesterday in a private ceremony attended by the families of the victims, government officials and former Minister for Pike River Nick Smith, who was instrumental in the development.

The 11.6km dual mountainbike/walk track, within the Paparoa National Park, represents a partnership between Doc, Te Rununga o Ngāti Waewae and the families of the 29 men.

It is both a memorial to those who lost their lives in November 2010, and a way to create economic stimulus for the communities affected by the tragedy.

The mayor of Greymouth at the time of the disaster, Tony Kokshoorn, said 13 years had passed quickly but what happened – including the senselessness of it — remained fresh.

"On many minds, it's still why?" Mr Kokshoorn said.

The Government in the 1990s gave the owners of coal mines too much self-determination in their own health and safety methods, Mr Kokshoorn said.

"We can't change that, but what we can do is to put some permanent reminders to the public of what can happen and this track opening today symbolises we haven't forgotten the Pike 29."

Bernie Monk, the father of Michael Monk, who died in the disaster, said the families wanted to create something good out of adversity.

The Pike 29 Memorial Walk would be further enhanced by a visitor museum at the former mine administration building.

"It's a monumental day," Mr Monk said.

The injustice of the disaster stuck with him, but the completed memorial track would hopefully bring economic benefit to the community, he said.

Mr Smith said it seemed "like yesterday" when the Pike families raised the idea and to see it completed was "incredibly positive."

"The great irony for me in the debate about the track was that treasury disputed our figures that we would get 30% usage."

Mr Smith said it gave him great satisfaction the latest Doc figures for the Paparoa Track was over 90% use — delivering on the vision originally presented by the families.

Families spokesman and a member of the Pike Memorial project Colin Smith said the memorial track was key to original Paparoa Track vision.

"This track will ensure the memory of those family members will live on through the eyes and minds of those who walk and bike the track."

Mr Smith the valley abounded with natural outstanding beauty with stands of red beech like none seen "anywhere else on the West Coast".

This contrasted with the tragedy in the same place.

Department of Conservation Western South Island operations director Mark Davies said the new track was of national significance.

He praised the generosity of the Pike families who imbued a special quality to the project.

The new track, with its 800m ascent to the Paparoa Range ridgeline, would be appreciated by adventure cycling enthusiasts, he said.

"This is going to be the premier downhill mountainbike ride in New Zealand."

Mr Davies said it also marked the return of public access to part of the Pike River valley area closed to the public in 2006 under an agreement to develop the now abandoned Pike mine.

The mine portal area remains off limits to the public.

The road developed for the Pike Mine remaining in-situ was now a key part of the new track development, as it provided direct access. — LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

By Brendon McMahon