Let’s create more public walkways along rivers, streams and coastlines

Many in the Far North enjoy walking for exercise or pleasure, and public walking tracks along rivers are proving especially popular. In Kerikeri, for example, a new walkway on Wairoa Stream attracts many people daily, while recently-restored reserves at Peacock Garden and Reinga Road support access to waterways. Local volunteers created these walkways, removing rubbish, weeding, planting native trees and turning ugly neglected areas into assets for the entire community. Community groups would like to create more riparian walkways but, sadly, public access is often blocked by pieces of private land.

Today we have riparian walking tracks only because Councils in the past had the foresight to create Esplanade reserves – strips of land that allow public access along the margins of a river, stream, lake, wetland or coastline. Currently, when land is subdivided, the Far North District Council has the power to establish more Esplanade areas. The District Plan (s14.2) aims to achieve a ‘comprehensive network’ of access strips along the coast and waterways in locations valued for recreation, public access and/or conservation. Land needs to be earmarked for creating Esplanades in future when land is developed – indicated by Esplanade Priority Areas in the District Plan’s zone maps.

However, there’s a risk that Council may hesitate to create more Esplanades because maintenance costs are regarded as a burden. Such a view would be shortsighted – a wider perspective is important. Examples such as Wairoa Stream demonstrate that riparian access need not be a ratepayer burden, but a community asset with many benefits.

Communities don’t need to sit back waiting for our resource strapped Council to shoulder the maintenance work for all public reserves. Local groups can play a major role in turning neglected streamside reserves into beautiful walkways. A community-initiated project in partnership with Council can be a rewarding way of enhancing public amenities. Council can acquire positive assets at very low cost.

Local groups can play a major role in turning neglected streamside reserves into beautiful walkways.

Although some new esplanade reserves may initially remain neglected, over time a community group is likely to take the lead in restoring it. We have seen how local volunteers can become motivated for diverse reasons – getting rid of unsightly rubbish, beautification, attracting native birds, tree planting to absorb harmful greenhouse gases, or simply to improve property values. Access to the splendid waterfall on Wairoa stream, for example, is now mentioned in real estate advertisements.

However, the essential first step is for Council to acquire more Esplanades and designate additional areas as future Esplanades - to remove gaps and create continuous access strips along key waterways. Without a continuous strip, a walkway can be blocked by private ownership, as occurred on Wairoa Stream until a landowner eventually granted an easement – it only needed a small 80 metre strip.

Council needs to plan for future generations and a growing population by securing continuous Esplanade areas, making links to new roads during subdivision, providing a fund for land purchase when necessary, and erecting marker posts to indicate public access areas.

Rod Brown is the former chair of Vision Kerikeri and has been the driving force behind the development of the walking track along the Wairoa stream in Kerikeri

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