Weeping for downtown willows

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A major makeover of Earnslaw Park on Queenstown’s lakefront will have a price-tag of $600,000 – and two weeping willows. 

Queenstown Lakes District Council parks boss Gordon Bailey says one willow may possibly be saved but it’s more likely that both will have to be sacrificed. 

At 20-30 years old, the trees are in the prime of their life but are too big to be transplanted, he says. 

“They’re in the wrong place for how the reserve is used nowadays. 

“When they were planted, we didn’t have things like snow jams and God knows what else on [Earnslaw Park] but there’s been a change in community focus on that area,” Bailey says. 

The planned park makeover – “a tidy-up of the whole area”, as he puts it – centres on a new toilet block estimated at $500,000. 

Still at the design stage, the new loos will probably be in a different place from the existing ones, Bailey says. 

With the toilets relocated, the entire Earnslaw Park layout can be revamped “so it works a bit better”. 

“We can lay it out so it works as a functional piece of reserve rather than trying to squeeze things in and move seats and lighting poles like we’ve had to do in the past,” Bailey says. 

After the new toilets go up, the park will be resurfaced – probably with a mix of synthetic and real grass. 

The lost willows will also be replaced with new shade trees, Bailey says – but not willows, he adds, because they hamper grass growth. 

What with Winter Festival, New Year’s Eve and other happenings such as the recent Taste Queenstown event, Earnslaw Park grass gets “fairly hammered over the year”, he says. 

Once the project has council approval, full public consultation will follow, Bailey pledges – probably in the New Year. 

“It’s a high-profile site and we want to get it right so it’s good for a significant length of time.” 

All going well, according to Bailey, the new-look Earnslaw Park will be ready for the opening of the 2012 Winter Festival. 

Former Queenstown mayoress Lorraine Cooper says “it’s a shame you have to sacrifice beautiful willows”. 

“It’s so nice in autumn to see the willows and poplars. 

“They’re gradually going and what are we going to have left for the autumn? 

“I just think it’s a sign of the times and it’s unfortunate. 

“Personally, I’d rather see the toilets somewhere else than the trees.” 

Cooper pleads for “substantial replacements” if the willows have to be lopped.