22 Mar 2016

Locals fed up West Coast track still closed

8:06 am on 22 March 2016

The Department of Conservation (DoC) is being accused of neglecting its core functions after failing to repair and reopen a West Coast track damaged in a storm two years ago.

The site of Pike River Mine

The site of Pike River Mine. Photo: SUPPLIED

A section of the Inland Pack Track, from Bullock Creek to the Fox River, in the Paparoa National Park, has been closed since Cyclone Ita hit in April 2014.

The closed track should link to the first Great Walk in more than 20 years, the Pike29 Memorial Track, named for the 29 men who died in the Pike River Mine explosion in 2010.

About 381 beech trees were knocked over on the track from severe wind from the cyclone and some were worried the continued closure of the track was a sign of bigger problems from an under-resourced department.

Forest and Bird Canterbury West Coast conservation manager Jen Miller said locals were fed up with nothing happening to the track.

"It has been of great concern to local people because nothing has happened to this track particularly when there seems to be a greater emphasis on a Great Walk which is effectively aimed at tourists and particularly international tourists."

Ms Miller said she questioned DoC's priority in managing some of these tracks.

"Are they going to ignore the Inland Pack Track and focus and spend millions on the Great Walk, with some of these closer tracks, some that locals access, get ignored in terms of the need to maintain and improve them."

DoC estimated at least 2000 hours of skilled chainsaw time as well as teams to clean up the debris were needed to clear the route at a cost of about $62,000.

Between 750 and 1200 people used the track annually before it was closed, whereas the Pike29 track was anticipated to be used by between 3000 and 5000 walkers a year.

The Government has provided DoC with a budget of $10 million for the Pike29 construction, as well as ongoing maintenance funding of $350,000 a year in the department's baseline.

Green Party conservation spokesperson Kevin Hague said the Inland Pack track was a national park tramp not a little-used, obscure walk in a remote part of the country.

Kevin Hague.

Green Party conservation spokesperson Kevin Hague Photo: GREEN PARTY

"This is a high priority track, it is not getting the maintenance that it requires, I suspect knowing that the department is under extraordinary financial pressure as a result of government cutting its real terms funding that DoC is struggling right around the country with meeting some of these core conservation requirements," Mr Hague said.

But, DoC Buller District operations manager Bob Dickson said it was not a question of whether it could afford to reopen the track, but where it chose to put its resources, and he the track was not that popular.

"What we're doing at the moment is we're saying look there's a whole range of recreational opportunities we've got available in the district and we've got to put our resources where we get the best return for that."

He said the best returns came from sites that were high-use and that people visited regularly, and the Inland Pack Track section was not one of those.

Mr Dickson said DoC had told the community the closed track may be re-opened at some time, but not in the immediate future, and DoC hoped to be able to give an update in May.