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By John Gardiner
What I like best about my role as the Regional Field Advisor for Northland is observing the real pleasure, pride and camaraderie that community groups enjoy at the completion of a community project involving working together in the outdoors.
I have just spent a couple of days in Kerikeri honouring Rod Brown as the 2017 Outdoor Access Champion for his leadership role in the development of a walking track up the Wairoa stream to Te Wairere waterfall. The Commission holds the Outdoor Access Champion awards each year to recognize those who have made significant and lasting contributions to public access to the outdoors in New Zealand, whether through securing new legal access, championing public rights of access, trail building, or contributing to understanding of access rights and responsibilities. The Commission's Board members traveled to Kerikeri to present Rod with the Award, with Rod’s response in receiving the award being typically humble: “The track's success was the result of a lot of people and community groups working together for a common purpose, without letting egos get in the way.”
The Commission had contributed a modest sum to the project from its Enhanced Access Fund, and so during the planning and construction phases of the track I got to know many of Rod’s ‘merry men’ who toiled away for several years removing weeds, planting natives, constructing bridges and building tracks. Kerikeri Rotary and Vision Kerikeri were also involved under Rod’s wing but, in the main, it the work was completed by individuals who wanted to do some good for their community. It wasn’t easy work but they were dogged and determined to tackle the tasks at hand. The camaraderie that developed among the team was almost palpable. Many commented on the health benefits from the sustained exercise in the outdoors. Some of the women present at the award ceremony even expressed gratitude for getting their men out of the house.
However, it still takes someone to initiate, take the lead and tie all the many threads of the operation together. In this challenge it was Rod Brown, although it hasn’t stopped there. Led by Rod, this enthusiastic gang has continued on building the track up the side of the waterfall through to Cobham Road and beyond.
Also present at the award ceremony were representatives from community groups in Paihia and Russell who are involved in enhancing their own public access. I found it particularly exciting to hear about their progress in linking some of their track networks together. Building connectivity between Kerikeri, Paihia and Russell with walking tracks and cycle-ways will bring a whole new dimension to walking and cycling in their region, where health, social and recreational benefits for the communities and their visitors will abound. It seems as if they have reached back and grabbed a page from our distant, more pedestrian past, and turned it into a new way for their future.