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Bikers seek park close to town

Monday, May 21, 2018

Photo: Louis Klaassen.

Whakatane mountain bikers are lobbying the council to actively support the establishment of mountain biking facilities close to town.

Diane Plant, a keen mountain biker and Blue Light volunteer, is among a handful of people officially advocating for a mountain bike park through a submission to Whakatane District Council’s long-term plan.

Today, with the support of fellow bikers, she hopes to convince councillors of the health and wellbeing, tourism and community benefits of the sport and gain their support in establishing off-road riding facilities to replace the now-closed Rawhiti Park at Ohope.

Ms Plant is upfront with the fact that she doesn’t know what such facilities will look like, where they may be located, or how much they will cost.

As she points out, she’s not an engineer, a surveyor, a track-builder or a landowner; she’s just a parent and community volunteer who wants to see the needs and aspirations of her community, in particular the young people, met with a local place to ride.

She hopes the council, as governors with skills and connections to land or landowners, can help get the ball rolling. “We have the local mountain bike club and people within the town with the skills and resources to build tracks, we just need the access to some land to do this,” she said.

The pay-out, she knows, will be huge having seen it first hand in her family and with the at-risk youth she works with through Blue Light.

“We see so many of our young people participating in risky behaviour including drugs, alcohol and crime. I believe mountain biking can play a part as a solution to these issues. It offers the adrenaline kick our young people need, especially young males.

Previously that “good shot of adrenaline from a fast, fun, risky sport” was within biking distance at the Rawhiti Park. However, this park is closed indefinitely due to logging operations.

Blue Light travels to Opotiki to the Dunes Trail then progresses to the Onepu Mountain Bike Park before taking its young charges to the Redwoods in Rotorua. “Once these young people discover the enjoyment and thrill of mountain biking we bring them back home to Whakatane where there is nowhere for them to ride, Ms Plant said.

“Unfortunately, for most of these young people they have no way of getting to a mountain bike park to continue their new-found pleasure.

It was the same for primary school children who have bike tracks at school but progressing beyond this have no trails to ride their bikes locally.

She said aside from the health, environmental and family benefits, a mountain bike park would have spin-offs for tourism and business, helping halt the steady stream of cars leaving town every weekend, bikes attached, destined for other towns with bike trails.

Rex Humpherson from the Whakatane Mountain Bike Club said the club provided more than 200 temporary memberships annually for visitors looking for somewhere to mountain bike but with the closure of Rawhiti there was no place for people to ride close to town.

He wants the council to help obtain public right of way over a land parcel, open up scenic reserves or purchase a land block for the development of trails that would provide for the growing number of tourists and residents looking for off-road riding facilities.

“Look at what it has done for Rotorua, Nelson, and many other provincial centres across the country. Many people choose to relocate to these areas for the mountain biking opportunities they provide.”

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