RAKAIA COM­MU­NITY AS­SO­CI­A­TION

RAKAIA

NZ Gardener - - 2018 Gardener Of The Year - TEXT: JO MCCAR­ROLL PHOTO: DAVID WALKER/STUFF

Rakaia is a par­tic­u­larly com­mu­ni­ty­minded com­mu­nity.

The Can­ter­bury town­ship, 50km south of Christchurch, has a pop­u­la­tion of only about 1000, but there’s no short­age of lo­cal groups, clubs and teams.

“We’ve got our fire bri­gade, our Lions Club, rugby, soc­cer, netball, hockey, bowls, cards, li­braries. When I cre­ated a list one day there were nearly 100 com­mu­nity groups,” says Rakaia Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion (RCS) chair Neil Pluck.

A few years ago the RCA drove the cre­ation of a trail for walk­ing, bik­ing and run­ning along the edge of the Rakaia River. The walk­way was im­me­di­ately pop­u­lar with the com­mu­nity, but to be­gin with, it wasn’t a cir­cu­lar track, he says.

“There was a miss­ing link,” Neil says. “We had the trail on the river and peo­ple were us­ing it, but to get from one part to the next, you walked along a tar-sealed stretch. There wasn’t even a foot­path.”

So in 2016, the RCA ap­proached the Ashburton Dis­trict Coun­cil to sug­gest it cleared a 2ha dis­used piece of coun­cil land to link the two ends of the walk.

The land was cov­ered in gorse, broom and black­berry 3m high. “You couldn’t even climb through, it was that thick.”

The RCA paid for con­trac­tors to clear and level the area, then vol­un­teers cre­ated the trail and planted na­tives along it. There are pit­tospo­rum, kowhai,ˉ flaxes, hebes… and any other self-seeded na­tives green-fin­gered lo­cals hap­pen across.

“Prob­a­bly 90 per cent of the plants we have used were do­nated,” Neil says. “Na­tive plants pop up here, there and ev­ery­where and the peo­ple who know what they are look­ing for just find them on their quar­ter-acre sec­tion.”

While many lo­cals have been in­volved in the project, of par­tic­u­lar note, Neil says, are Marie Smith who looks after the up­keep of the walk­way; Dorothy Knight, who did the bulk of the plant­ing in the new area; and Elma Hobson who has worked to make Rakaia a pret­tier and more pleas­ant place to live for years. Now 91, Elma and her hus­band Ge­orge are still ac­tive vol­un­teers. “She is still reg­u­larly turn­ing up to help plant new shrubs,” Neil says. “And she al­ways brings the scones for morn­ing tea.”

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