The latest round of Trail Fund grants – supported by Specialized generous donation – helps build new trail networks from Northland to Southland
Thanks to an incredible $17,850 donation from Specialized New Zealand, Trail Fund’s spring funding round was bigger than ever this year, with four grants of $4,000 up for grabs! The increased number of grants on offer saw the biggest number of applicants in years, with 26 trail building groups vying for the funding.
“This was a really tough round for funding decisions as there were so many quality applicants,” said Advisory Board member Peter Mora. “After much debate we chose our top four, but we want to acknowledge the incredible amount of good work being put in by volunteers up and down the country, and the quality of the applications we received.”
The funding is already being put to work by four deserving trail building groups around the country – Ruapehu MTB Club, Waikaia Trails Trust, Cromwell MTB Club and Kerikeri MTB Club.
Riding in Ruapehu – Ruapehu MTB Club
For those who have spent non-ski days riding everything they thought the Ruapehu region had to offer – Old Coach Road, 42nd Traverse, Fisher’s Track, Tree Trunk Gorge – it turns out there’s more!
Opened late in 2018, Uenuku Pines was the first mountain biking park in the Ruapehu region, set in Waikune Forest on the edge of National Park village.
The opening of the park saw a series of ‘unofficial’ trails – built and maintained by local volunteers –finally made ‘official’, thanks to the co-operation of the forestry managers. With 15km of trails ranging from Grades 2 to 5, the park grew quickly in popularity, as did Ruapehu MTB Club membership.
In 2021, a large section of the park needed to be felled, which stemmed the growth the club had worked hard for. However, the numbers have started to increase again with the redevelopment of the trail network – this time, working in tandem with the forestry company and Crown to avoid future felling impacting the trails.
Building momentum should speed up this summer thanks to Trail Fund’s $4,000 donation to the purely volunteer-run club.
“We’re really excited about the rebuild and reigniting the passion that was building in the area with working bees, weekly social rides, kid’s programmes and a women’s riding group,” said club president Greg Prouse.
“The funding help will expedite the construction of new tracks and usage in some difficult terrain, bringing us closer to our goal of once again providing a regional riding facility for riders and their families.”
Why Waikaia? Pure passion – Waikaia Trails Trust
As Margaret Mead so aptly put it: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
And while the Waikaia Trails Trust might not be looking to change the world, this small town of 150 people is looking to add another string – and a good one – to Southland’s growing mountain biking scene.
As with most good changes, it didn’t happen quickly. An opportunity to develop mountain bike trails in Waikaia Forest, located immediately to the west of Waikaia in the north of Southland, was identified by the mountain bike community in 2020. The site, which is a 700-hectare forest with approximately 110m of elevation, is owned by Southland District Council (SDC) and there was no public access at this time.
Not to be dissuaded, the instigators had the Ardlussa Community Board (ACB) lead the first stage of investigation, starting with receiving 100% support and permission from the Council to use the forestry block for this project.
“Once permission was granted to investigate, we commissioned a concept plan, including a feasibility study, then a master plan, then set up the Waikaia Trails Trust to lead the project in collaboration with SDC, Ardlussa Community Board and Southland Mountain Bike Club,” explains trust chairperson Hilary Kelso.
From there, the Trust worked to finalise a Memorandum of Understanding, Access agreement and License to Occupy with the Southland District Council. This included securing insurance, including $20m liability, and completing a Health and Safety Plan and Overlapping Duties document between the Trust, SDC and IFS (Invercargill Forestry Services). All parties involved have the up-to-date harvesting plan to ensure best use of the area for trails sustainability.
“It’s taken significant effort to get to this point, but we are thrilled to be ready to begin,” says Kelso.
“Our aim is to create an excellent trail experience based on quality, which compliments and enhances mountain biking in Southland and caters for all riders, with an emphasis on introduction to and progression within the sport.”
Development of the proposed 25km network is divided into stages, and the Trail Fund grant will go towards the development of the park entrance and two initial trails – one beginner and one intermediate.
While the Trust is focused on catering for its own residents and neighbours, it also sees the park as an opportunity to add recreational tourism to a town known largely for its railway and mining history.
Caught in the middle – Cromwell MTB Club
Nestled between a trio of top mountain bike destinations, one might think Cromwell mountain bikers were spoilt for choice. However, as epic as their neighbouring destinations may be, until recently they had no local mountain bike specific trails, and no suitable land to build them.
That all changed early in 2022, when the Cromwell MTB Club – a newly formed club committed to building free, permanent trails around Cromwell – were granted access to suitable land in Bannockburn, where work on their first trail started soon after.
“We’ve actually been a committee for just more than four years but until now, the club had been a ‘‘committee only’’ entity because we didn’t want to seek paying members until there was a solid project to be involved in.
“Now we have that and trail work in well underway in Bannockburn, where trails will be built purely by club members and other volunteers.”
Bartrum was thrilled to receive the funding for tool sand irrigation pipes from Trail Fund and is confident Cromwell residents and visitors will reap the benefits.
“The funding will go a long way to help a fledgling club turn an area that currently has no trails into a biking hotspot,” he says. “We are very much an inclusive, community focused club. Our first trails will be accessible to riders of all levels and, once those are built, we will look to build more technical and difficult trails.”
The club is also very close to building more trails at a second location, Shannon Farm, which would pave the way for world class, mountain bike-specific trails within riding distance of Cromwell town, according to Bartrum.
“We are just waiting for final approval from the council and are currently in the process of seeking funding as the first trail here will be professionally built. We are so thrilled to finally be able to put our shovels in the dirt!”
More than pedal power needed – Kerikeri MTB Club
A long-established Bay of Islands’ based club, the Kerikeri MTB Club has taken on many projects over the years and has a keen following in the area.
“We have an excellent knowledge of local mountain biking opportunities, and our members help to build a vibrant MTB community in the Bay of Islands,” says club president Richard Pilling. “We foster skills development, with encouragement and challenge in a social environment.
“We build and maintain a network of hand-crafted tracks in local forests, host weekly group rides, events and activities.”
The current focus for the club is Whitehills Forest, located 8km north of Waipapa, which offers a diverse range of terrain, including plantation forest, native bush, gentle rolling areas and steep gullies – with more than 200m of descent to play with.
“Thanks to outstanding support from Summit Forests, the club has been developing the riding area for the past two years,” says club secretary Odette Yates.
“Volunteer effort and local sponsorship has enabled us to build more than 16 interconnecting tracks covering a range of terrain, which have been embraced enthusiastically by local mountain bike riders.
With a combination of hand-crafted and machine-built tracks suited for intermediate to expert riders, Kerikeri MTB Club says its goal is to offer the best riding experience north of Rotorua
According to Odette, this is now the only mountain bike area of its kind in Northland, as the existing club tracks in the Waitangi Forest – which had been built over the past 10 years – have largely been destroyed by ongoing forest harvest.
With the project well underway, Kerikeri MTB Club knew what it wanted from its Trail Fund application – a power barrow of its own!
“We have found moving materials, dirt, gravel and timber around on the steep terrain so challenging that we’ve hired and borrowed power barrows on several occasions, and we recently gained permission to extend into another area of the forest, which is further from the main road,” explained Odette in the club application.
“Borrowing and hiring power barrows has made us aware of how much more efficiently we could work if we had access to this kind of machinery on a permanent basis.”
With a power barrow now on hand, Trail Fund looks forward to seeing what will be accomplished by the committed club members for years to come!
Photo of Cromwell MTB Club