Good morning everyone. For those who do not know me I am Craig Benbow, Malvern Branch Secretary and I along with Bill O'leary are your representatives on the Backcountry Trust. The trust was formed following the launch of the proposal at the NZDA Conference in Christchurch last year and its purpose is to continue and expand the work the Outdoor Recreation Consortium began maintaining and enhancing outdoor recreation facilities for all users. I am the elected Chairperson of the trust and supported by Geoff Spearpoint in the deputy role.
It has been a busy year getting to know others from our partnered organisations, FMC and Trailfund as well as our funders in Department of Conservation. All the constructs for Charitable status have been completed, a contract let for our grants manager, accounting and project tracking systems put in place. A new website was also designed and delivered while funding applications have been accepted, processed and approved through another three funding rounds. Our website http://www.backcountrytrust.org.nz contains all the information required to begin a project but like all good websites is a work in progress and is continually being refined for efficiency and ease of use.
Today I am proud to report on behalf of the Backcountry Trust board progress towards our shared vision that: -
All publicly accessible backcountry huts and tracks are maintained by either Department of Conservation staff or volunteers.
Opportunities for repurposing existing tracks and building new recreational facilities by volunteers are supported as appropriate.
The Trust encourages volunteering with its many benefits for both volunteers and the wider community of Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Stronger relationships between local communities and the Department are fostered, and more people recreate in the natural landscapes of Aotearoa/New Zealand.
After a year, but a little over 7 months since we got our first allocation of funds to work with there are projects being worked on almost the entire length of the country with everything from horse pack tracks to alpine huts and everything in between including significant lengths of mountain bike tracks. Restoration of huts and expansion of biking opportunities in particular are bringing a renewed interest in our back country as a place to recreate and if that continues to expand we will
see a healthier population enjoying their natural places in the way it was intended when land was set aside for recreation.
Some statistics on our volunteer activity over the project:
The Backcountry Trust has approved 56 projects totalling $458,000 since coming into existence. Some of these have already been completed and many will be completed this coming year. Our last round of funding approved $205,500 of funding to 20 projects so we are on target to meet our project milestones of 57 projects annually and 200 huts maintained over the life of this funding, We have either spent or committed to spending $1.4 million of the funding provided on recreational facility maintenance or enhancement. Our next funding round will close in September and we expect another good range of projects to come in. Our processes are simple and seeking funding not onerous. We want to hear from you.
Without our major funding partner Department of Conservation we would struggle to achieve much and although both parties have been learning a lot from each other through robust discussion and a good exchange of ideas we continue to make steady progress towards both organisations objectives. I wish to acknowledge the significant support and assistance both volunteers and the trust have received from DOC staff at multiple layers of the department and we look forward to improving the flow of information and enhancing results of our volunteers labour as we move forward.
We continue to need volunteers and groups to take up the challenge and get out there doing stuff. Many ,many facilities still need considerable work as a result of the neglect they suffered over the last 40 years. Hunters stay longer and use more hut nights than any other group so it is reasonable to expect hunters to contribute significantly to maintaining the huts they use. We are aware that many NZDA branches have previously contributed hugely to maintaining huts the Department failed to and we thank those branches for taking the initiative and fighting to keep facilities in the face of some quite determined efforts to thwart you. A little bit of anarchy goes a long way in the back country!
I will make mention of work in one particular valley that is hunter centric and you will hopefully have seen the excellent report on the relocation of Veil Biv. Full credit to all those involved in that
project as it was a testing project for many reasons and all the players could well have been excused for throwing in the towel as blockage after blockage came up. In the end we all worked for a result and it was achieved. Other huts in the Havelock have also received significant maintenance by members of South Canterbury Recreational Sportsmans Club led by Mike Lagan and I want to acknowledge that group even though they are not part of NZDA as their contribution to the comfort and safety of fellow hunters and recreationalists is significant, thanks guys, we owe you one!
Work like that demands and deserves respect and we all need to contribute through looking after facilities when we use them and letting the carers know if something needs repair, donating a few extra dollars to the groups doing the work or letting them know when you are heading that way so your travel may benefit others.
Without our volunteers we are nothing and the work that our volunteers complete in a calendar year is quite remarkable. Given that all are foregoing precious time with family and loved ones as well as often contributing their own money for travel and food, using their own tools and vehicles as well as enduring some trying conditions to get the job done our volunteers deserve a huge thank you from all back country recreationalists. From the Backcountry Trust we thank you for a wonderful contribution that the community benefits enormously from.
The Backcountry Trust has its own challenges as we continue to progress funding for work. We have funding through to the middle of 2019. We will present a case for ongoing funding and sincerely hope that will be forthcoming as the volunteer model is very alive and functional in New Zealand and I think most hunters appreciate the value of a roof over your head and a track to get you there. We do need your support though and spreading the word, contributing some time and effort builds status in the community with others and cements our contribution to our recreational property that enables us all to enjoy the sport and places that make this country the paradise it really is.