Users get say on which huts to maintain

TINA LAW
Last updated 14:24 05/08/2014
Doc hut on the Antipodes Islands
Department of Conservation

ANTIPODES ISLANDS: A remote hut, damaged in a landslip, needs repair.

Black Spur Hut
Department of Conservation
RUN-DOWN: Black Spur Hut, photographed in 2008.
Nick Smith
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
'FAR BETTER OPTION': Conservation Minister Nick Smith has announced outdoor recreation clubs will maintain 36 huts and 670 kilometres of track.

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Tramping, hunting and mountain biking clubs will be upgrading some backcountry huts and tracks after signing a $700,000 deal with the Conservation Department.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith last night announced a consortium of outdoor recreation clubs would share the money in return for completing up to 107 backcountry projects, including repairs and upgrades to as many as 36 huts and 670 kilometres of track.

The move would involve 10,000 hours of voluntary labour.

The clubs are now calling on their members and the community to tell them what huts or tracks they think need attention.

The consortium includes the Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) with 17,000 trampers, the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association with 10,000 hunters, and the Trail Fund with 8000 mountain bikers.

FMC president Robin McNeill said the club had identified some projects, but wanted to hear from its members and the community before any decisions were made on which huts and tracks to work on.

Each application would be considered on its merit and could spread throughout the country, he said.

McNeill said he envisaged some of the money would be spent on transporting materials to the remote locations via helicopters.

The volunteers would then do the work and walk back out.

''They have a tramping trip and do a whole lot of good work and have a good time.''

McNeill said some huts, including forestry huts dotted around the country, had been well built, but just needed a few thousand dollars worth of work through one-off projects such as fixing rotten boards to put them in ''good stead'' for years to come.

The money would enable that work to happen, he said.

Smith said some huts had 20 or fewer nights' usage a year but maintenance and inspection costs were $4000 annually.

The facilities were important to New Zealanders, but because usage was low, they were only marginally economic to maintain, he said.

''A far better option than removing these huts is to partner with outdoor clubs who value these remote experiences and are prepared to help maintain them."

The money was granted from the $26 million Community Conservation Partnership Fund, announced in March this year.

It was not from the Conservation Department budget. The department was still be responsible for maintaining more than 900 backcountry huts and 11,500 km of tracks.

Work done on the huts and tracks would also have to meet strict DOC guidelines and be inspected by DOC staff as part of its normal schedule of checks.

However, Smith said it was likely the $700,000 contract would be expanded. It was part of the new direction of the department to work more with communities and businesses, he said.

''We need to change the culture from it being DOC land to it being public conservation land in which as many New Zealanders as possible get out, get involved and connect with their country."

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