16 Nov 2015

Planned Pike walkway like 'desecrating graves'

6:03 am on 16 November 2015

The mother of one of the men who died in the Pike River Mine says the Great Walk planned through the mine area will be like desecrating a grave.

The site of Pike River Mine

The site of Pike River Mine Photo: SUPPLIED

Environment Minister Nick Smith has announced plans for a 45km Great Walk through the West Coast's Paparoa National Park, which will be extended to include the area of the Pike River Mine.

The Great Walk will be called the Pike29 in memory of the 29 men who died in the Pike River mine disaster in November 2010.

Pike River Mine

Pike River Mine Photo: Pikeriver.royalcommision.govt.nz

Paparoa National Park will be expanded by almost 4000 hectares, to take in the area of the Pike River Mine, and a memorial and small museum will be created at the mine site.

But Sonya Rockhouse, whose son Benjamin died in the explosion, said she and about eight other families of those who died were opposed to the track.

"To me it's sacred ground," said Mrs Rockhouse.

"My son and 28 of his workmates are buried in there, and I just think it's like desecrating a grave really. I'm not happy with it at all. It's not a happy place up there. It's not a place to be celebrated. To me it's a sad place."

She said the project was just a waste of money.

"I just don't see the point - $12 million is a lot of money that have could been spent on more productive things, ie trying to get into the mine to get some sort of evidence about what might have happened."

Bernie Monk, spokesperson for the Pike River Families group, said the vast majority of the families of the men who died were happy and excited about the project.

He said he saw it as a way to preserve the memory of the men who were lost.

"It is history for number one. The Pike 29 are never going to be forgotten. Also it's a measure of letting the country know that because of Pike River we've had major changes in health and safety."

He said the families were also pleased the project would bring economic benefits to the district which had had tough times in recent years.

Dr Smith said the trail would be a walking and mountain bike track with an amazing story to tell, and would take people through a spectacular part of the country.

"You've got the gorgeous limestone country through the Pororari Valley coming out of Punakaiki," said Dr Smith.

"You're then into some absolutely rich lush podacarp and beech forest, coming out over the lookout of the quite spiritually significant Pike Mine Site area. You've then got the tops of the Moonlight Ranges from which there is just stunning views of the Southern Alps as well as looking back over Punakaiki."

Dr Smith said the project was estimated to cost $10 million, and he expected the walk would be open to the public by the end of 2018.

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