Living for the Sledge Track

Last updated 11:17 14/01/2013
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WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ
DEVOTED: Ian Argyle helped build the Sledge Track, advocated for the name Arapuke Forest and has poured his heart into the Kahuterawa area.

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Ian Argyle has spent the past 15 years moulding the green heart of the Tararua Range. Chris Hyde takes a stroll with the man known affectionately as the Sledge Track yeti.

Type Kahuterawa Outdoor Recreation Hub, Arapuke Forest and Harding's Park into Google Maps and it says these places are figments of the imagination.

Accessible at the end of Kahuterawa Rd, near Palmerston North, these places, which do not exist on an internet map, are the only places in 78-year-old Ian Argyle's life that have truly mattered to him.

As we walk over the shingle the Manawatu man has trod many times, past the grazing runoff his mother bought in 1947, past the drains he has dug and the native trees he has planted with his arthritis-ridden hands, he says the land we are walking on is what he would like to be his legacy.

"This place - I know it all and I have a certain amount of pride in it all. I've seen Arapuke go from being a sheep farm, to forestry and now it has gone into being a reserve and a recreational area.

"You get some pretty pet spots among it all."

As a boy, Argyle used to herd cows "30-something miles" from Bunnythorpe to his mother's grazing runoff on a plot near the top of the Back Track, stopping for lunch and a sleep at the bridge over the Kahuterawa Stream on the way.

The nature of the area never left his heart - he bought two sections of his own in what is now Gordon Kear forestry block in the 1950s - and in 1998 he got the spark he needed to dive head first into moulding this part of the Tararua Range into one of Palmerston North's best nature reserves.

That spark was a paper road found buried in the archives. It gave Argyle legal access to a long- overgrown path starting at the Black Bridge and winding up the banks of the Kahuterawa.

For the next four years Argyle's army of volunteers built what is his greatest achievement, the Sledge Track, which was formally opened in 2003 by prime minister at the time Helen Clark.

"In those days, it was about a core dozen of us volunteering consistently and then we got great support from some groups on a one-off thing.

"We had a bank come up and its staff all did a day building the Sledge Track."

These days he also gets a hand from prison workers to help him maintain what he has created.

"They're great. They're always there on time and they seem to put more pride into their work than the community service people."

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Despite the problems with his hands, he has not stopped working.

"I'm still up the Sledge Track doing something every second day or so - people always catch me planting a tree or spraying this or that. They call me the Sledge Track yeti."

Another of Argyle's achievements is his push for a name change of what was formerly Woodpecker Forest.

Argyle felt it made sense to call it Arapuke Forest.

Arapuke means "a pathway in the hills". The name also honours the memory of Huia Arapuke Holbrook, son of the family who first cleared the area.

Eventually, in 2008, the Palmerston North City Council agreed with him.

Argyle's knowledge of the history of the area drops off his tongue.

"This road," he says, gesturing to the Back Track as our shoes crunch the gravel, "was built in 1887 by John Carmody for [PndStlg]761 15s and 6p."

He knows enough to fill a book. He published that book in 2004 and called it Beyond the Black Bridge.

What he wrote in there, he knows by heart.

"I take groups around this area quite a bit. People ask so many questions that it's a bit silly not to know it. You can say, 'Oh, I'll look it up when I get home', but you don't see that group again soon."

The city council has big plans for the future of Kahuterawa Outdoor Recreation Hub or, to put it more simply, Argyle's patch.

Arapuke Forest is of particular interest. The forestry land was acquired by the council in a land swap in 2006.

Within some of the shattered remains of cleared pine trees the council recently spent $20,000 digging out five kilometres of mountainbike tracks.

All of which amuses Argyle, to a degree, for he has never ridden a mountainbike in his life.

"I think this business of jumping is fascinating.

"They're seven metres away before they see it and then, whoopee, they're off, no time to think, although when I brought the cows up here as a boy, I used to go down the back track on the old Raleigh 20. It certainly was a thrill and I understand why they love it.

"As long as everyone - mountainbikers, walkers and environmentalists can just work in together - that's our great ambition. We must work together."

The future of the area is bright, with plans for more dual-purpose and specialist mountainbike tracks. Argyle would also like to see greater connectivity between tracks.

If the council provides money for the Sledge Track to be extended, to link to South Range Rd and alongside the Turitea Water Reserve into Harding's Park, he would be delighted.

"All we are going to do is walk along the road. We're not going to pee in the water reserve.

"It probably will happen eventually, but who knows when?

"This place has so much more to go. We're only scratching it at the moment, but the one thing you have got to understand with the council is that Rome was not built in a day."

Argyle will keep scratching for change as long as he has the itch.

"I could be in an old people's home waiting for God right now.

"I think that while you possibly can, you may as well keep going."

As we walk back towards the Black Bridge, Argyle muses about his advocacy.

"The council can't just throw money into the wind at whoever is making the most noise.

"But you've got to keep working for what you want, and I do that.

"In the end, the council will put a more professional idea into something you have been chewing away at it about for ages." He chuckles when asked if he is the one making the most noise.

There is a beautiful silence as he thinks, then says: "Yes".

- © Fairfax NZ News

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