The much-hyped 110km walking/cycling Queenstown Trail faces a major controversy on the eve of its opening.
The sizeable Wakatipu horse-riding community is furious that they’re banned from the $5.4 million, publicly-funded track, to be officially opened by Prime Minister John Key next Thursday.
Their ban coincides with increasing concern by local horse riders about the dangers of riding on grass verges alongside country roads.
The local horse community had hoped that – like the Otago Central Rail Trail and bridleways in England – they could share the new trail with biking and walking enthusiasts.
Queenstown Lakes District Council’s trail project manager Paul Wilson says the trail wasn’t designed for horses and they’d destroy it.
Queenstown Trails Trust boss Kaye Parker adds the trust has provided areas for horse riding and has plans for many more including a possible exclusive bridle track.
Queenstowner Maggie Hillock says she was recently confronted by Wilson while riding her horse on part of the trail near Alec Robins Road, as she’d done for 25 years.
“His opening line was, ‘What’s a horse doing on this track?’ He said they damage the track.
“I was talking to two lovely people and they both looked along the track and we couldn’t see one hoof print from where I’d come.”
Hillock says she and her husband John support the trail – they’ve both bought bikes to use it – “but wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could all use it?
“Obviously, if people galloped along it all the time, that would be different, but if people commit to just having a leisurely stroll on their horses and being sensitive, it would be fine.”
Another 17 riders have also shared their concerns with Mountain Scene this week.
Wakatipu Riding Club member Jane Sparks maintains the original trail tender documents provided access for horses.
“I don’t know why it changed,” she says.
“Horses that are at walking speed are less dangerous than a person on a bike, sometimes,” Sparks says, pointing to cycle ruts on the Jack’s Point-Kelvin Heights track.
Sparks is concerned riders will have nowhere to go unless they brave increasingly dangerous public roads.
“Someone could lose a child round here – the roads are just horrendous.”
Long-time riding instructor Jan Tomes is also concerned about ‘No horses’ signs on sections of the trail on public land, traditionally used by horse riders.
“We’re actually being denied the opportunity to ride our horses recreationally in the Wakatipu.”
Wakatipu Riding Club president Sam Glazebrook asks: “Many of the tracks that link Queenstown and Arrowtown have been used by horse riders for years without any problems so why, now that they are being i
ncorporated into a national network, are we no longer allowed to use them?
“As riders we pay the same taxes that have gone towards these trails, and yet our interests have fallen by the wayside,” Glazebrook says.
Avid rider Kate Pirovano adds: “If horses were allowed access to these trails, because we are such a small and exclusive group we would all respect them totally, which includes kicking any manure off the track.
“My horse is extremely quiet and is very used to prams, bikes, runners and walkers, and I know that any horse person in their right sense would not take their animal on the trails if they were a danger to others.
“Horses built this district – in fact, this country.”