Cyclists, runners keen for Catlins tracks

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JACK.CONROY@nullcluthaleader.co.nz

Support for building new bike trails in the Catlins is growing after a Clutha District Council public consultation on the idea.

The consultation came as part of the council’s submission to the Department of Conservation’s Otago Conservation Management Strategy review of cycle trails during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The council identified four potential trails involving conservation land, ranging in length from 10km-60km.

The council said as the trails were only in the ‘‘conceptual’’ stage and as discussions had not been held with landowners who would be affected, it would not discuss plans other than confirming they were proposed in ‘‘Catlins coastal areas’’.

The Catlins covers 1900sq km, of which a little over 25% is conservation land managed by Doc.

Papatowai conservationist and cyclist Fergus Sutherland contributed to submissions from Forest & Bird’s Lenz Reserve and Catlins Promotions, and had submitted on his own behalf.

“Being a road cyclist myself, I’d like to see trails paralleling the highway,” Mr Sutherland said.

“And there are several places where the cycle trail could deviate into conservation land,” he said.

Running parallel with the road, with slight deviations into the adjacent forests, was a way to protect cyclists while also avoiding difficult track development further into forest.

“Especially in areas where there are hilltops or dangerous corners, to make cycling through the Catlins safer.

‘‘For me and for Catlins Promotions, those areas would be the priority.”

Other trails further inland could run into problems with landowners.

Providing access to conservation areas could lead to a greater appreciation for the environment, Mr Sutherland said.

“It’s enhancing people’s understanding by giving them better access. Cycleways that are designed well are not going to destroy much in themselves.”

Balclutha resident and avid trail runner Janine Ogden said there was a “desperate need” for more Clutha district cycling and running tracks.

“When me and the kids are travelling that’s what we look for when we stop in small towns. . .is somewhere to get out on the bikes or go for a run,’’ she said.”

She said there was a large community of runners and cyclists in the Clutha district who had to travel large distances to find suitable tracks.

Council chief executive Steve Hill stressed the council’s submission did not mean trails were planned, or were happening.

It meant trails could happen if people’s interest levels warranted them.