Wilderness wow factor sparked DOC career

Last updated 05:00 30/09/2013
Ross Kerr
BARRY HARCOURT/Fairfax NZ
Ross Kerr and his wife Kerri cut the cake at Mr Kerr’s retirement celebrations in Te Anau.

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As a teenager, Ross Kerr was so captivated by the beauty of Fiordland that he chose a career in conservation spanning almost five decades. The former Department of Conversation worker, who enjoyed a retirement party in his honour at the weekend, talked to Collette Devlin about his 47-year love affair with nature.

When Te Anau man Ross Kerr went on a school excursion to Fiordland as a teenager, it ignited a passion that lasted nearly 50 years.

"That trip inspired me, the wildernesses captured my imagination as a boy and stayed in my mind. When I came here to work, I decided this was where I would stay. I feel privileged to live and have work here," he said.

His 47-year career with the Department of Conservation in Fiordland ended on Saturday night with a retirement party in Te Anau.

His Te Anau role started in 1975 when he moved from Westland to work as a parks ranger but early on he knew it was an area he wanted to live in forever.

The wow factor of Fiordland was its remoteness and beauty, he said.

"This remoteness and the challenging environment has kept me in the area. No one day at work was the same and it was a very satisfying place to work."

He worked on various projects throughout his career but supervising the construction of the Kepler Track was one of his favourites.

Building other tracks and facilities in Fiordland was challenging and interesting work, he said.

The replacement and upgrading of back country huts, upgrading of great walks and building bridges were other highlights, he said.

He started his career with the Department of Conservation in two of its parent departments - the New Zealand Forest Service and Department of Lands and Survey.

During his last year at DOC he was a works officer looking after contracts for upgrading but before that was a programme manager for visitor assets, working on the recreational side of DOC.

The organisation had changed significantly over the years, he said.

There had been changes in Te Anau, increases in visitor numbers and a focus on recreational great walks and events in Fiordland, while biodiversity work and projects to control invasive pests had also changed.

"There are lots of good things happening out here," he said.

He did not plan to take it easy during his retirement - he owns a shop in Te Anau with his wife and hoped to volunteer with DOC and conservation groups in the area.

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"The wilderness attracted me to Te Anau but it is the community that keeps me here."

- The Southland Times

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