In late November 2016 I had the opportunity to attend the Walking Access Commission (WAC) and NZ Recreation Association (NZRA) organised ‘ Trail Leaders Workshop’. Auckland 4WD Club covered my travel cost to Hamilton in the interest of finding out what plans are being made to establish or extend trails for recreation in the north. You’ll probably realise that this workshop on trails was not aimed at 4x4 recreation, but targeted the areas of cycling and walking. The aim of the workshop was to share strategies on how to establish new trails and identify how WAC and NZRA could assist. Activity by trail groups is at a high level, with a wide array of projects, especially around cycleways. The money is a little eye-watering too, with government funding for construction and maintenance. During December, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment announced the fifth funding round of the Maintaining the Quality of Great Rides Fund, with nine projects to receive funding. These included the Motu Trails Trust: Motu Trails (Bay of Plenty), $ 29,752 Ruapehu District Council: Mountains to Sea (Ruapehu), $ 74,700 and Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency: Rimutaka Cycle Trail ( Wellington Wairarapa), $ 221,000. Since the start of the Maintaining the Quality of the Great Rides Fund in February 2014, $ 4.2 million (out of the total sum of $ 8 million over four years) has been approved for 46 projects across 19 Great Rides. We’re up against some significant budgets to build trails. Oh, this workshop only covered from Taupo to North Cape, so only identified possibly less than a third of the overall investment in trails. It’s interesting that the word ‘trails’ has been adopted, rather than the past use of ‘tracks’ for walking or ‘cycleways’ for bicycles. That high level of activity by other recreation groups alerted me to the degree of risk that four wheeling is looking at for future use of routes on public lands. There are people out there enthusiastically researching and identifying possible access options along many of the unformed legal roads (ULR) on the periphery of Auckland especially. By using a ULR, it makes creating a trail much simpler than negotiating access on private land and with the available funding, even the existence of streams, etc, are not too much of a problem to bridge. One group in the Matakana area has even managed to cheaply acquire a ‘second hand’ motorway over-bridge made redundant by motorway widening. Many of the bridging projects are however only engineered for cyclists, so even if a ULR could also be driven by a 4x4, any cycle bridges would obstruct travel. The Walking Access Commission was also active in promoting the use of their mapping system, which is now quite a valuable asset to recreation. They’ve options for linking to GPS systems and drawing online and indicated that they’d consider a future ‘workshop’ to educate about what the system is capable of and how to utilise it. It was interesting to see the participation of quite a number of local body employees and the support being provided by some Councils for developing cycle and walking trails. Even some Councils that have not in the past been interested in recreation use of a ULR… possibly it’s the ‘ free’ government funding that has influenced them? I suspect that they’ll still not do much to enable vehicle use of other ULR in their regions… it would be nice to find that I’m wrong on this! Among the 80 participants in the workshop were a few faces familiar to me and among them was John Gaukrodger, a now retired Department of Conservation (DoC) manager who’d had a major influence in ensuring ongoing 4x4 access to both Maratoto and Pureora Forest. John is now working on identifying a series of walking trails around the Coromandel Peninsula and suggested that if 4WD have ideas of using some of the existing ULR, then we’ll need to start staking our claims by putting in some effort. Another participant was from the Ruapehu District Council who’s been a ‘willing listener’ over many years and he was able to update me on a report to be presented the next day to that Council about possible support for a recreation venture in Tongariro Forest that DoC had initiated. It was interesting to find that the report was not in favour of direct Council support and that a possible risk to 4WD use of the 42 Traverse has probably been averted for the meantime. There was some subsequent support by some councilors for investment in encouraging Tongariro Forest recreation use, but that appears to be low on immediate budget plans. A summary of factors affecting trail creation was assembled by the workshop participants and one that stood out was the inconsistency of the Department of Conservation in their approach, management plans and the high staff turnover creating problems with agreements. Other barriers included Health and Safety factors (including volunteer workers), resource management and possible archeology costs, future limits on actual trail use (balancing the popularity), the political environment and the level of recognition of the projects. Obviously there have been quite a few ‘successes’ and some targets for achieving success include getting local Iwi support, showing progress of projects, embedding project plans within Council ten year plans, having business planning and a business case for a project and putting in place succession planning for people involved. The majority of the trail projects have been locally driven and that’s probably where four wheeling needs to look in order to get projects in place that will improve travel opportunities. Even the more rural 4WD groups should avoid complacency and get involved if possible. Relationship building can assist immensely when working with other organisations to create a ‘trail’ for any recreation. They’re not making unformed legal roads anymore, so we need to try to secure what’s left.