Family's fund still unused

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 12/06/2014

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Fifteen thousand dollars sits in a special German bank account.

The money, raised by the family and friends of Johanna Kuchelmeister to make tramping in Fiordland safer for others, is still waiting to be used after almost a decade.

Speaking from the family's home in the small town of Ingoldingen in southern Germany, Johanna's father Hansjoerg Kuchelmeister said the family still held out hopes a walk-wire bridge across Mistake Creek - where his daughter was washed away - could "perhaps become real".

The Kuchelmeister family has silently sat on money raised in Johanna's memory.

Hansjoerg Kuchelmeister said the family had limited communication with DOC at the time of his daughter's death and ever since.

The money could have been used to do some good in his daughter's memory, he said.

"As far as I remember, it had been difficult to come in closer contact to the Department of Conservation. The German Embassy was involved, and in August 2005 the Department of Conservation wrote to us: ‘The matter of providing a walk-wire crossing at Mistake Creek and the feasibility of doing so, is currently under consideration and we will provide a response to you in due course.' We heard nothing more about Mistake Creek," Kuchelmeister said.

"After Johanna's death, we were very hopeful we will be successful building a bridge, or pay a part of the bridge, but it was not so easy to find the right contacts to realise our idea."

DOC said it never accepted or received the money raised by the Kuchelmeister family.

DOC Te Anau conservation services manager Grant Tremain said he understood the family was directed to donate the funds to Fiordland search and rescue in 2006 and was unaware this had not occurred.

In the aftermath of Johanna's death, DOC said a bridge crossing was not in keeping with the standards for Mistake Creek Track as a back-country tramping track.

That position had not changed, Tremain said.

The push to build a bridge at Mistake Creek had support from several southern tramping clubs and the Federated Mountains Club of New Zealand in subsequent years.

In 2010 the Fiordland Tramping and Outdoor Recreation Club went to DOC pleading for the installation of a walk-wire bridge - using the funds raised by the Kuchelmeisters five years before - at the dangerous Mistake Creek crossing.

A walk-wire bridge at the place where Johanna was swept away would not alter the back-country experience, the club said.

Barry Hanson, Southland conservator at the time, said the proposal to install a bridge over Mistake Creek was given serious consideration in 2005 but rejected because the crossing did not meet bridging thresholds used by the department.

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Current tramping club vice-president Viv Shaw said ever since Johanna's tragic death, the club had lobbied for a bridge across the river or for an alternative route to be marked.

"As for the donation that was offered by Johanna Kuchelmeister's family, the club has no idea what happened to that and would be quite interested to know," she said.

Kuchelmeister said family and friends of Johanna would still like the money to be used to build a bridge at the place where Johanna lost her life, or at any better place in Mistake Creek, which makes the crossing of water there safer.

Tremain said the department would be happy to talk to the Kuchelmeister family about an appropriate use of the money raised in memory of Johanna.

DOC is also reviewing its systems on its tracks after Indonesian national Yessica Asmin, 22, was swept into the Clinton River after slipping while walking on the Milford Track last month.

AT A GLANCE

German tramper Johanna Kuchelmeister, 23, is swept away in the rain-swollen Mistake Creek, near Knobs Creek, north of Te Anau, on March 6, 2005.

Her body is found the next day 1km downstream from where she and a male Canadian friend had tried to cross the creek.

After her death, Johanna's family and friends raised about $15,000 and offered to pay for a wire bridge at the creek crossing, but DOC said no.

The proposal to install a bridge over Mistake Creek was rejected because the crossing did not meet the threshold for bridging under New Zealand standards for tracks and outdoor visitor structures. 

- The Southland Times

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