There are plenty of walking and tramping tracks throughout GWRC’s network of regional parks, forests and recreation areas. They are designed to provide different experiences for different purposes: from wide two-abreast tracks with metalled surfaces for easy walking through to less modified tracks and routes for hardy trampers looking to get away from it all.
Tracks are built and maintained using well tested national standards. That doesn’t mean track uniformity as no two are identical, and nor does it reduce the challenge of the bush. It simply means we maintain our tracks to consistent standards that reflect the kinds of recreation experience our visitors seek – in short, we provide choice.
Why can’t we leave tracks in a natural state?
Tracks deteriorate over time. Surfaces and drainage must be maintained otherwise track formations wear and deep ruts form or the surface erodes and gradually washes away. Vegetation needs to be cut back to ensure that tracks stay open and safe. Weed control is important. Our maintenance programme is designed to keep tracks in shape and fit for purpose.
What does track maintenance involve?
Maintenance makes our tracks more sustainable and cost effective to manage.
Vegetation cutbacks: regular (monthly) cut backs of vegetation along the edges of tracks helps to maintain the width of the walking surface and allow sun onto the track to dry it out. In doing this, work crews using machinery such as scrub bars, loppers and sometimes chainsaws for larger tree branches.
Clearing culverts and watertables: regular clearing of culverts and watertables avoids problems with erosion by enabling water to escape from the track. Crews use spades, grubbers and leaf blowers to clear drains.
Reshaping: periodically (5-10 years) tracks require reshaping to correct water damage and wear and tear. This involves smaller digger work to reshape the track surface back to a sustainable formation.
Metalling: metal provides a durable track surface that enables less digger and track maintenance work over time and a consistent surface for walkers. Metalling work is usually preceded by reshaping. Metalling involves the use of power barrows to transport and spread metal, a small digger to load barrows, a plate compactor to compact the metal down and help it bind, and sometimes a helicopter to transport the metal to the track.
But don’t tracks look unnatural when they are maintained/upgraded?
Don’t judge newly built or maintained tracks too hastily. It takes a short while for tracks to revitalise, green up and take on a more natural appearance. As you can see below, apprarant damage quickly gives way to an attractive natural-looking track. Given more time the surface and the bank will begin to green up too.
Why do we need track standards?
Our tracks meet a range of needs, from easily accessible walking tracks and paths to more challenging terrain accessed by less developed tracks and routes. Some are akin to urban park walkways but many are maintained to tramping track standard to deliver a more “natural” experience, and routes take that even further. Standards enable users to make informed choices about the type of experience they are seeking.
What standards do we apply?
We use the same standards as the Department of Conservation- SNZ HB8630:2004, supported by the Track Construction and Maintenance Guidelines – VC 1672.
Are these standards relevant to New Zealand?
They were developed in NZ for NZ conditions following wide consultation with industry experts and national user groups. They guide the development and maintenance of Department of Conservation and local authority track networks and are familiar to Kiwi walkers and trampers. The tracks are promoted throughout the country through brochures, maps and websites and use commonly accepted signage and track symbols.
Don’t these standards ruin our tracks and undermine their challenge?
Quite the reverse, they provide for the full range of users, ensuring the challenges they offer match user needs. There are plenty of options for everyone – choose your challenge, choose your track.
Why do you put steps on tracks?
On most tracks we try to manage the gradient to promote use, but also reduce erosion. This makes them easier to walk on and results in less in less maintenance. Sometimes we need to build steps, at other times we may need to build a zig-zag or another site-specific solution.
We’ve used these tracks for years, why change them now?
Tracks are not static, they constantly change and need to be maintained to ensure their long term use and safety. Regular users may not always recognise the gradual decline in a track’s condition. Surfaces wear, become rougher and uneven or boggy in places. They may also widen (as people avoid wet/muddy bits in the middle) or narrow (in low-use tracks vegetation grows inwards and the surface build-up of organic material tends to shrink the effective track width), depending on the amount of usage they receive.
Population changes also drive track design and maintenance. We must ensure that different groups can use our parks - as the regional population ages we need to be mindful of changing needs. If that means modifying width and surface, we’ll consider it on a case by case basis. There is plenty of choice throughout the parks network. Most parks are less than an hour’s drive away.
Locals have contributed to making our neighbourhood tracks what they are today – why can’t you leave our tracks alone?
We acknowledge and appreciate the support of neighbourhood groups and work closely with them towards the mutual goal of enabling great experiences. However, parks are regional assets and need to provide for regional use. The same standards apply wherever they are. We encourage greater use of parks throughout the region.
Neighbourhoods are often located at the entrance to track systems. To promote use of these tracks we normally try to ensure “entrance” tracks are accessible to a wider range of users than, say, tramping tracks that lead off them.
Can’t you leave communities – the track users – to make decisions on the type of tracks they want?
Some neighbourhoods feel something akin to ownership of “their” tracks. But the network is managed on regional ratepayers’ behalf by GWRC. “Friends groups” are in a similar position to GWRC – their public good efforts should benefit the wider community not just the local neighbourhood. We encourage community input via these groups, however the responsibility for maintaining tracks and associated structures rests with GWRC as the underlying owner or controller
Isn’t this all about money?
Track maintenance methods have changed in the last 25 years – away from workers on picks and shovels to now using mechanised methods (excavators, tracked power barrows, mechanised scrub-bars, motorised leaf blowers, plate compactors, and helicopters for transporting materials and sometimes equipment). Community groups seldom have access to the necessary equipment or specialist skills that are now required to undertake this work efficiently and safely. Modern machinery enables cost-effective maintenance of tracks and therefore access for equipment is one consideration when upgrading or maintaining tracks.