Passengers aboard Palmerston North’s celebrated Esplanade Scenic Railway now have a new attraction to enjoy.
On Thursday, well-known willow weavers Bridgette Murphy and Jim Richards from the Rangiwahia Environmental Arts Centre Trust planted a tunnel.
The 20-metre long structure, which straddles a curve in the tracks behind the Scenic Railway engine shed, is woven together, Murphy said, ‘‘from a bunch of sticks’’, some of which were harvested during the recent trust open day.
Richards said the already budding willows will take root, leaf and send out withies that can be incorporated into the living structure of the tunnel.
‘‘It’ll take a good couple of years to reach fullness, but leaves should appear on it in two to three weeks and the withies should be over a metre long by the end of the growing season,’’ Richards said.
The tunnel could be extended by simply planting and weaving more willow on to the end of the structure, or easily taken out if it didn’t work.
‘‘They wanted a door in the tunnel,’’ Richards said. ‘‘Something to do with scaring people on halloween night.’’
He said new growth could be harvested for tunnel extensions and for other projects, such as the annual Festival of Cultures lantern parade.
Scenic Railway grounds manager George Shiels said the railway had been looking to do something with the piece of back corner track for some time.
‘‘A tunnel was the one thing we didn’t have.’’
The railway had thought about constructing a tunnel, but using concrete, wood or corrugated iron required a building permit, while materials and construction costs would be expensive.
One of the options had been to grow greenery over shaped wire mesh. Jason Pilkington, leisure assets manager at the Palmerston North City Council, put the railway in touch with the trust’s living willow tunnel proposal.
‘‘We all liked the idea... It’s going to be a real asset,’’ Shiels said.
Pilkington said safety, main- tenance and graffiti problems with a tunnel constructed from more permanent materials had to be considered.
‘‘A living tunnel meets the design standards we have set for the Esplanade, while allaying concerns about any of the negatives associated with it.’’
REACT’s Phil Hooper, left, Jim Richards and Bridgette Murphy