Creating great walking and cycling trails not only bolsters the health and wellbeing of local people, but can create jobs and bring millions of dollars into a community by attracting visitors.
That was the message from Kaye Parker, the CEO of the Queenstown Trail Trust, who was keynote speaker at a meeting of about 60 fellow trail enthusiasts in Matakana last week. She spoke at a workshop organised by the Matakana Coast Trail Trust and the NZ Walking Access Commission.
Ms Parker shared her experiences and lessons from developing the Queenstown Trail, one of the most successful “Great Rides” in New Zealand.
But Ms Parker said achieving success had required overcoming numerous obstacles.
She says one of her first mistakes was not asking the government for all of the money needed to build the trail, even though the government at the time was eager to back trail building.
This meant the Queenstown Trail Trust was left to find a further $4 million from a relatively small community.
Geotechnical problems also forced a change in the planned route for the trail. The original route had taken it across council and government land, but the new route required securing easements from 36 private landowners.
Ms Parker said a vital learning was to be respectful to private landowners, as they held the key to the success or failure of the project.
“You are asking a very small number of landowners to give a very large gift of their land to a very large number of people. This rarely benefits the landowners themselves,” she said.
She said it was a mistake to try to pressure landowners by suggesting they should give up their land for the good of the community. She said they were not obliged to give up anything.
Instead, trail advocates should think of ways they could assist landowners – perhaps by using earthmoving equipment to flatten ground or remove rocks in return for the landowner granting land access.
Another thing trail trusts could do was provide letters of support to landowners who were seeking resource consents to, for example, subdivide their land.
Ms Parker said every landowner she dealt with who received a letter of support from the Queenstown Trail Trust had their resource consent granted.
She said that these strategies proved so successful that landowners who were originally sceptical decided to get on board with the trail and voluntarily offered easements, recognising they could also benefit.
Ms Parker said the Queenstown Trail Trust was also able to use some of the difficult terrain to its advantage.
Major donors were invited to sponsor tunnels and bridges to the tune of $50,000 and have a piece of infrastructure named after them.
A strong theme of the workshop was that if a great trail was constructed, then people would be sure to visit in their thousands.
Ms Parker said the Queenstown Trail had an original goal of attracting 35,000 visitors within three years of opening, which was thought audacious at the time. However, she says the trail exceeded that goal within three months of opening.
It now attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually.
Ms Parker said those visitors brought in $27.7 million each year and accommodation providers, cafés, bars, wineries and bicycle shops had seen business boom.
She said one café, which had opened just before the trail did, saw turnover soar because of business from cyclists. It began turning a profit within three months, something unheard of for that kind of business.
Chief executive of the NZ Walking Access Commission Eric Pyle spoke at the workshop.
Ant Woodward, who is developing a trail in Kaukapakapa discusses his plans with Rodney Local Board member Brent Bailey.
Shelldon Holdsworth of Springboard Community Trust talks to Snells Beach trail developer Gary Heaven.
Landscape architect Jack Haldane-Willis and urban designer Clynt White were among the attendees.