The future of Queenstown’s world-renowned Gorge Road Jump Park remains in the air after an eleventh-hour bid to save it from demolition.
The Queenstown Mountain Bike Club’s licence to use the area officially expired a week ago, and the council wants to clear the site for use as a storage area for town centre infrastructure projects.
But a club founder, Nathan Greenwood, who’s designed and built the park up to its current state since 2003, has enlisted a bevy of resort heavy-hitters, including billionaire Xero founder and resort resident Rod Drury, to lobby the council to change its mind.
He’s already had a win, with the council agreeing to a stay of execution until the end of this month.
Greenwood launched a ‘Save Gorge Road Jumps’ campaign today, and tells Mountain Scene he’s prepared to “stir up a hornet’s nest” if necessary.
He wants “commonsense to prevail” and the council to realise the park’s more valuable to the community than a temporary laydown area for construction materials.
His vision is to expand and enhance the site with a skate park, pump track, a “skills area” for kids and more green space for native planting and fruit trees.
“It’s got the potential to become a hub for our biking scene – that we’ve grown here for 25 years – it could be even more of an iconic facility for the community and world.”
Drury confirms he’s made a verbal offer to mayor Jim Boult to buy the site from the council and gift it back to the community.
He says it would be “crazy” to demolish the jumps.
Greenwood, who’s been instrumental in popularising mountain biking in the Whakatipu since arriving in the resort in the 90s, has designed and built many of the resort’s most popular trails.
He says he pitched his vision for jump park to Drury a month ago, and the latter immediately got on board.
He reckons he could’ve accepted losing the park to make way for another community asset like a school or hospital, but as far as he knows, the council’s got no long-term plan for the site.
He thinks the club’s been “pushed around a little bit” by the council.
“The club’s been scared to go in to bat for it because that could jeopardise all the other things it’s working on.”
The 1600-member club was told in early 2018 its licence to use the Gorge Rd land would be terminated, with the council saying at that stage it needed the site for vehicle
Since then, it’s worked with the council to find a site for a new jump park.
In March, Scene revealed it had settled on a three-hectare slice of recreation reserve, at the end of Kerry Drive, on Queenstown Hill.
The club’s been given $100,000 to build jumps, and $300,000 has been spent on a toilet and carpark that’s expected to be completed by the end of the month.
Construction of the new park’s first stage is expected to start by late spring.
The club’s newly-elected president, Pete McInally, admits it’s in a difficult position over the issue.
“We’re working with council on many projects, so we need a good relationship with them.”
But Drury’s offer to buy the site is a “game-changer”, McInally says.
“It actually gives the council a workable option – its a win-win.”
Boult says he’s had several discussions about the issue with Drury, who had made “what is
clearly a wonderful offer” that will be explored further in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, council staff are now scrambling to find an alternative site for construction material storage.
Although councillors are aware of the offer, it remains a management issue rather than a governance issue for now, he says.
Council spokeswoman Rebecca Pitts confirms the club’s been given an extension until August 1, but “no guarantees have been provided beyond that point”.
In the meantime, the council and Waka Kotahi are exhausting all efforts to find an alternative location for a construction laydown area, she says.
Drury tells Scene that demolishing the jump park would be an “own goal” for Queenstown.
Happy to admit he’s in the process of spending “several million dollars” on bike trail projects throughout the Queenstown Lakes and his other hometown of Wellington, he says the park’s one of the reasons why the world’s best pro riders come back to the resort year after year.
“The benefit we get is those top global pros raving about it … so it just seems like a real own goal given all the great work that’s starting to happen with bike tourism.”
It would take years to build another jump park to the same standard, he says.
“Non-bikers probably think you can just rebuild it [elsewhere], but you can’t, it’s 10 years of enormous community effort.”
He reckons there must be alternative sites for construction materials to be stored, including in the flat area of the park.
“Or could we purchase the land and donate it back to the community, further develop it and turn it into a first-class location?
“We’ve already got the start of a really fantastic recreational place for the community, and I’d be really happy to look at all of those options.
“I think the community is now realising that it’s actually going, and just how crazy it is to take such an iconic and important location for a bit of temporary pipe storage.”
He’s encouraged the council’s given the club a few weeks’ breathing space.
“Jim [Boult] has been very open, and I really appreciate they’ve gone back to have a look at it.
“It sounds like the door’s slightly open.”