We've come a long way, from where we began

This column by New Zealand Walking Access Commission board member Barbara Stuart looks at how the Commission has changed in the time between her first term on the board (2008-2011), and her return in November last year.

It is refreshing to return to the board of the New Zealand Walking Access Commission and find that many of the actions we planned and initiated in the early days of the Commission have become a reality.

The free, nationwide Walking Access Mapping System (WAMS) is up and running, and widely used by New Zealanders around the country for information about public access to the outdoors. The Both Sides of the Fence website is proving to be popular with teachers and students as a learning centre. Just recently, the Commission released guidelines around what it means to 'follow the Kiwi way,' which is about responsible behaviour in the outdoors. To follow the Kiwi way is to adhere to some common sense rules that help preserve our environment, encourage respectful behaviour towards others and keep us safe in the outdoors. 

These and other initiatives confirm my view that our government's reason for setting up the Commission in 2004 to provide leadership and clarity was a wise move. There is clarity, and the Commission is quietly delivering.

I would like to remember past members of the board including John Acland, the late John Aspinall, Maggie Bayfield, Kay Booth and Mike Barnett for the important contributions they have made. It is great to be back in the current team led by John Forbes.

I'd also like to take the opportunity to mention the Commission's outgoing chief executive officer Mark Neeson. Mark will be greatly missed. He brought exceptional knowledge to the Commission when it was first set up and we have been very fortunate to benefit from his skills ever since.

As founding CEO, Mark gathered around him a committed team who worked strategically to produce positive results for walking access. They managed this by successfully bringing together private and public landholders, as well as members of outdoor activity groups, and helping them work through sometimes thorny negotiations. The commitment of people like Mark and his team make me feel privileged to be here.

As a rural landholder, I am acutely aware of the risks walking access can present. Every year, we see news reports of people being injured or losing their lives because they have ventured out without being prepared. They get caught out by swiftly changing weather, they get lost, they run out of supplies. Very often it's rural land owners who are asked to help in remote areas during emergencies. 

Rural landowners often allow informal access to the public for community fund raisers and celebrations. The right of ownership comes with responsibilities to our fellow New Zealanders and the Commission provides us with guidelines and procedures for handling these situations.

This year at Cable Bay near Nelson my husband and I are opening our gate for a family picnic day to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the first International Telegraph Cables' arrival to New Zealand on 21 February 1876. The local fire brigade will manage parking and a health and safety plan.

The Kiwi way of lending a helping hand and having a generous attitude to one another makes me proud. The Commission's role in my mind is about nurturing this trait, while promoting safe, respectful and responsible behaviour in the outdoors. The Commission's hope, and mine, is that these values will be embraced by all New Zealanders, and passed on to newcomers and to future generations.

Page last updated: Sep 8, 2020, 3:46 PM