Park founder: “Council should invest in bike park”

Onepū Park Trails. Supplied photo.

Onepū Mountain Bike Park founder Bill Clark says Whakatāne District Council should consider buying the park.

Bill says the bike park is one of the most frequented recreational areas in the Eastern Bay and as well as being an asset for recreation in the district, the surrounding forest could also become a financial asset.

Bill  founded the park on land belonging to Norske Skog, in 2011, with cycling enthusiast Kim van der Aa.

The 71.84-hectare property, of which 64ha is planted in radiata pine, is now for sale and members of Whakatāne Mountain Bike Club, who have helped establish the bike park, are hoping the new owner will allow them to maintain the park for public use.

He says he knew of potential buyers looking at the property with the aim of keeping it as a park. One group of affluent Whakatāne businessmen are considering it.

"As long as there is a reasonable commercial return, they would like to do something for the community. Which is great, but it really should be a district council asset.

"The mountain bike park has morphed into something way bigger than I ever imagined and is now a really valuable community recreational asset. It has prevailed over the past 10 to 12 years working perfectly well in an arrangement between the mountain bike club, the community care group and Norske.

"One would hope it will continue that way with the new owners, but if the new owners happened to be WDC it would secure that park going forward and also provide them with a return on assets in a few years’ time.

"I’ve done all the numbers on it and it’s a commercial proposition. If the council spent, say, $3 million and bought Onepū park, they could harvest the forest in probably eight to 10 years’ time and get $4 million back, replant the forest and grow it on as a council asset.”

He says if the park is closed, more pressure will be put on the council to build a mountain bike park in Whakatāne, which would cost millions and the only return would be the recreational value.

"Because I’ve done this one, people come to me and say, ‘can you get one going in Whakatane?’ I’ve scoped it. It would cost millions and you would have to go through several landowners - iwi, DoC, council and private - to get the scale that we’ve got at Onepū park."

Bill says the council has not contributed to the park in the past, it has all been done through fundraising.

"They look after hockey, rugby, netball and tennis and all of those places, yet Onepū Park is bigger than all of those activities."

Bill says it's not only serious mountain bikers that use the park.

"It’s e-bikes, old men and dogs.

"People come out from Whakatāne just to run their dogs at the park because you can’t really give your dogs a good run in town."

Since the Rāwhiti Mountain Bike Park closed, Onepū is the closest mountain bike park to Whakatāne

"We have about 24,000 people going there a year now and easily half of them are from Whakatāne."

He says a number of people have benchmarked the investment against the $29 million boat harbour and say this would be of more benefit.

"People are really niggly about money being spent on the marina. Okay, yes, it will be of some benefit for the town, but here is a potential investment that has very significant benefits for our community that also provides an opportunity of commercial return. Why isn’t the council looking at it seriously?"

Whakatāne district councillor Lesley Immink agrees that the council purchasing the park warranted investigation.

"We lost Rāwhiti Bike Park over in Ōhiwa and if we were to lose this, if it went out of community hands, that means that we’ve got nothing.

"Even though the mountain biking community has been looking at making a bike park closer to Whakatāne, it hasn’t eventuated yet. So besides the Motu and our walking/bike path, we don’t really have anything else," says Lesley.

"There’s huge growth in trying to link up all of the New Zealand and Eastern Bay bike trails, so this is something that we should at least be having a look at. I’d be surprised if they weren't considering it.

"I don’t know whether it is something regional council might consider in conjunction with district council. It seems like a pretty good solution to me.”

The property is being marketed by Property Brokers in Whakatāne and tenders close on April 13.

-Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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