News: A billion-dollar opportunity for walkers
Walking Access Commission chief executive Ric Cullinane says if New Zealanders use Budget funding wisely it will be a major step towards a comprehensive nationwide network of tracks.
The Government plans to spend $1.1 billion to create 11,000 green jobs in the hope of jump-starting “a sustainable recovery” from the COVID-19 crisis. The package includes:
* $433 million for new jobs in regional environmental projects
* $315 million biosecurity, including weed and pest control
* $200 million for the Department of Conservation’s Jobs for Nature Fund
* $154 million for new jobs enhancing biodiversity on public and private land
While none of that spending is for public access to the outdoors, much of it will rely on good tracks and trails to succeed. All those people removing weeds, cleaning waterways and saving birds will need to walk into the wild to do it.
And, symbiotically, New Zealand’s tracks will be better as a result. Walkers, bikers, horse riders and other outdoor recreationists will hopefully have access to land that has fewer pests, cleaner waterways, and more native animals.
Walking Access Commission chief executive Ric Cullinane says there is a close relationship between many of the people who enjoy our outdoors and those who care for it.
“The people who tramp or mountain bike New Zealand’s amazing trails are often the same people who volunteer their time to protect and enhance our environment,” says Cullinane.
The government has also said that part of its COVID-19 recovery plan is to invest in ‘shovelready’ infrastructure projects. The Walking Access Commission, as well as many local authorities and other agencies, have been working to make sure that that list of shovel-ready projects includes new walkways, bike paths and public access opportunities to the outdoors.
“Building a network of trails will stimulate the economy for a few years,” says Cullinane. “But after we build them, they will still contribute to the economy. Good tracks bring visitors and tourists, they improve people’s mental and physical health, and they build stronger more connected communities.”
He also notes that building and maintain tracks is an investment in the whole country — north and south, urban and rural, rich and poor — because every town and district has tracks.
The Walking Access Commission Ara Hīkoi Aotearoa will receive an extra $1.8 million for each of the next two years — double its existing funding of $1.8 million.
This funding increase follows an independent review of the Walking Access Act 2008 which recommended an increase to the Commission’s funding. The review noted that the Commission’s funding, which had not increased since it was set up in 2008, was minuscule. It also found that people involved in recreation, the primary sector, te ao Māori and local government all valued the Commission’s work.
Cullinane says the review showed widespread support and appreciation for the Commission’s work.
“Without this extra funding, we would have needed to cut our work alongside community trail building groups, councils and other partners. This work includes creating, improving and promoting tracks, trails and other forms of public access to the outdoors for walkers, cyclists, horse riders, hunters and anglers.”
With luck, a well-resourced Walking Access Commission can use this nationwide focus on the outdoors to help local communities build a growing network of tracks and trails.
By Stephen Day