Several property owners in Queenstown’s Gibbston fear plans to move a cycle trail further from the highway will create a ‘‘path of destruction’’ through vineyards and historic pasture.

Queenstown Trails Trust (QTT), backed by Queenstown’s council, wants to realign the trail — in places barely 600 millimetres from State Highway 6 — for safety reasons and to improve the experience for riders.

QTT chief executive Mark ‘Willy’ Williams says it’s needed due to the huge numbers expected when the Kawarau Gorge Trail, through to Bannockburn, is completed in just over two years’ time ‘‘because, otherwise, someone will get killed’’.

‘‘And that’s not going to be something that happens on my watch.’’

Williams also says many of the property owners have encroached about 10 metres onto Crown-owned road reserve, so that’s land they can utilise for the realigned trail.

Council’s wanting to move about 1.6km of trail crossing nine properties.

In a statement, owners say they’ve ‘trespassed’ onto unused road reserve for over 100 years to reduce the fire risk, and because it wasn’t maintained by roading authority, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, or its predecessors.

‘‘Maintenance — trash removal, spraying, mowing — has been done by the adjacent ‘trespassing’ landowners.’’

Samuel ‘Q’ Belk, who’s owned Stronsay Farm for 28 years, claims QTT’s pushing the council and Waka Kotahi ‘‘to seriously damage, perhaps even financially wipe out some vineyards, a berry farm and pastures that have been farmed for up to 140 years’’.

Standing his ground: Farmer Samuel ‘Q’ Belk with his imperilled deer fence

He had some fencing removed for the original trail in 2003, which he replaced.

‘‘We asked [Gibbston trail founder] Susan Stevens and the trails trust if there were plans to extend the trail further north.

‘‘They verbally assured us there was not.’’

Trail could undermine vineyards’ viability

Belk says he’s unhappy there’s no plan to compensate owners for replacing fences that’ll cost thousands to replace.

One neighbour says the land he’d have to give up is crucial for his vineyard operation as it’s the tractor-turning area for cultivating, grape-picking, spraying and the like.

Their potable water valve box and probably potable water line are also on the road reserve.

Less than five years ago they also replaced an old fence along the highway with a very expensive one, and also erected a new vineyard sign.

To create a new turnaround area they’d have to pull out all the vineyard end posts, many metres of wire, a large number of interior posts and possibly hundreds of productive vines, then reinstall new end posts and reconnect wires.

‘‘Small vineyard owners like ourselves and Pagan Vines are in no manner of speaking getting rich, and often do not break even annually.

‘‘If we have to go to all the expense of deconstructing what we have spent years building, then we have to ask ourselves is the vineyard worth continuing?’’

They say the trail functions as it is now.

‘‘To suggest the trail experience will be significantly enhanced by ripping up hundreds of productive vines, posts and established fencing seems crazy.’’

Belk says QTT and council are also ignoring Gibbston’s ‘category 3’ designation under the national policy statement for highly-productive land.

He understands 600mm’s the minimum distance a trail can be from a highway, while other parts of the current trail are 2m to 4m away, so he’s asking why it can’t be retained ‘‘without ripping out fences, reducing arable land, creating more construction and earthworks and
alienating locals’’.

And, pointing out he’s had a 17% rates increase, he’s asking if it’s a good use of ratepayers’ money.

Trails boss: ‘Outcome can be a win-win’

Planning for minimal disruption: Queenstown Trails Trust CEO Mark Williams

Trails trust boss Mark ‘Willy’ Williams stresses the proposed ‘‘minor’’ realignment of the Gibbston River Trail’s highway section is about safety and improving the experience for cyclists.

It’s basically, he says, in response to the prospect of thousands more riders using the trail once the Gibbston to Bannockburn trail is completed.

Even now, Williams says the trail can’t accommodate two-way traffic.

‘‘Imagine that rather than a few thousand people a year, suddenly you’ve got in excess of 50,000.

‘‘Well, that’s not safe, because these people that are avoiding each other are then veering into a live carriageway [where motorists go

‘‘There was an incident last year where one of the contractors doing vegetation control nearly got taken out by a truck, so for a while there they didn’t want to mow it.’’

Williams says the legal road’s about 20m wider than the road itself — ‘‘the beauty is it allows the [realigned] trail to sit within that transportation corridor and create a bit of separation with the state highway’’.

However, he adds, they’d only be moving the current trail ‘‘probably a maximum of 5m, and, I’d say, in most cases less than that’’.

‘‘It’s actually making sure there’s as little disruption as possible to the vineyards and there’s the maximum improvement to the trail experience.’’

At a couple of points, such as by the Kinross winery, the realigned trail would also allow a slip lane to be added.

He’s confident ‘‘the long-term outcome is both the vineyards and the food and beverage operators down there will benefit from an awful lot of cyclists travelling, in an environmentally-friendly way, on these beautiful trails, in and out of Central Otago’’.

‘‘And everyone wins.’’

[email protected]

- Advertisement -