Trail in the trees . . . Elevate Trail designer Tom Hay produced this concept plan to give an initial idea of how a network of mountain bike trails could be built in the Waikaia Forest. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

About 50 Waikaia residents attended a recent meeting to hear an update on the proposed mountain bike trail network being suggested for the Waikaia Forest.

The 700ha forest, owned by the Southland District Council, is located on the outskirts of Waikaia and is within easy walking and biking access.

The meeting, held last week, was hosted by the Ardlussa Community Board and chaired by Southland District Council (SDC) programme delivery group manager Nick Hamlin.

Mr Hamlin said the project had not been initiated by the council.

“This is very much a community-led project with the support of SDC,” Mr Hamlin said.

IFS Growth manages the forestry for the council.

The board already has permission from the council to use the land.

The council hired bike trail designer Tom Hey, of Queenstown, to develop a concept plan of where trails could go, which was shared at the meeting.

The proposed trail network consists of 25km of trails ranging from easy to expert.

“The trails have been designed in a way so construction can be done in stages,” Mr Hey said.

As the forestry was still being milled, the trails would be placed in areas that had already been cleared and replanted.

The cost of the project, which includes a $90,000 pump track, is estimated at just under $1million.

The idea of the trails was first mooted by Daniel Butler, of Riversdale, who approached community board member Hilary Kelso.

Mr Butler said his family were keen mountain bikers and had biked through the forest.

“It’s just a perfect area for mountain biking,” Mr Butler said.

“It’s nice and hilly, it’s not too out of control.”

There were not many mountain bike trails in Southland, he said.

A charitable trust will be formed shortly to manage the project.

After the presentation, there was an opportunity to ask questions.

Most people were in favour of the proposal.

One resident was concerned ratepayers would have to foot some of the bill for the project.

It was explained that once the project was managed by a trust, avenues of funding, including Great South and the Lottery Grants Board, could be approached.

Another resident was concerned about the siting of the entrance to the trail network, as the increased flow of traffic could cause problems to residents who lived nearby.

There was also concern about where the public amenities would be situated as the area was prone to flooding from the Waikaia River.

Mrs Kelso said the concept plan had been drawn up as a starting point for the project.

“This is utterly only step one of many many steps we’ve got to go.”

Once the trust was formed, a plan would be drawn up that would take into account factors including access, the logging operation under way in the forest and the best place for amenities, she said.