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Traversing the Red Tape

01 February 2008

Australian Mountain Bike

He's one of the stalwarts of local mountain biking label Ground Effect, but Guy Wynn-Williams is becoming better known for his savvy trail access advocacy.

Guy Wynn-Williams is the co-founder of kiwi cycle clothing manufacturer Ground Effect. He commutes to work daily via Christchurch's Port Hills' singletrack but gets most excited about backcountry trips. He completed the first north-south off-road mountain bike traverse of NZ's South Island. He has been the land access campaigner for MTBNZ (NZ's national body) for over a decade, in particular the fight for mountain bikes on selected tracks in National Parks. Ground Effect also directly supports track building initiatives with their Slush Fund, both in New Zealand and over here in Australia. Here he shares some thoughts on what seems to have worked for the kiwis...

"Back in the mid 90's, Kahurangi National Park was about to swallow the Heaphy Track - 82km of stunning singletrack traversing NZ's South Island from coast to coast. Grouped with motorised vehicles, mountain bikes were prohibited from National Parks. A couple of thousand rode the Heaphy each year, but with a flurry of the quill it was off-limits. It was a call to arms.

MTBNZ made several approaches to the NZ Conservation Authority, including one backed by the then Minister of Conservation, to allow seasonal access for mountain bikes on the Heaphy. Each time we were rejected with scant reference to the evidence presented. Then finally in 1995 the General Policy was reviewed and modified to differentiate between non-motorised and motorised vehicles. Each National Park's Management Plan can now allow for mountain bikes on selected tracks where the physical impacts and social conflicts can be managed within acceptable levels. Wahoo.

Since then a couple of plans have been reviewed with bikes allowed on one track in each - contrary to the fears of nay-sayers there aren't that many tracks that can actually be ridden. For the Heaphy, we sought and gained a partial review of the Kahurangi Plan. That will be completed late 2008, with luck in favour of seasonal access to the Heaphy,

It may have taken thirteen years but it is worth the effort. The General Policy sets the tone for decisions outside of National Parks and there is only one Heaphy. Apart from patience and tenacity, a few things have probably contributed to our success thus far:

Resources. The three of us - myself, Bryce Buckland and Kevin Hague are very familiar with the legislation, issues and personalties. Our message has remained consistent over the years. Kevin brought to our group expertise in the machinations of the public service and he prepared our key submission - a formidable document. We roped in a friend (and keen mountain biker) to provide legal input on some curly matters.

Research. It's difficult to argue against XC riders and walkers sharing appropriate tracks. The pro-mtb case is supported by considerable scientific research and cycling is acknowledged as a good thing for society, ie. increased fitness, reduced carbon foot print, etc.

Stakeholder dialogue. We contacted clubs and organisations that might support or oppose MTBNZ's position. Many tramping clubs were initially opposed, but came around once we talked through the issues. As a result there is widespread support for our proposal from a variety of stakeholder groups, including Federated Mountain Clubs with whom we have a formal accord.

Coming of age. Historically, opposition to mountain biking has been based on the fear of what might happen - especially collisions with other users. Accidents have proven to be very rare and research shows that meeting cyclists enhances the backcountry experience for many walkers.

Having recently developed a new version of the Mtbers' Code in conjunction with land managers and track builders, our current emphasis is to promote the Code to riders (to improve etiquette) and walkers (to know what to expect)."