It started as a plan by Environment Canterbury to close off a section of the Ashburton – Hakatere River to everyone, walkers, cyclists, and 4x4s – from October to January every year to protect the Black-Billed Gull breeding population.

Among other things, it has ended with the establishment of a dedicated 4WD Park near the site, on an 8 hectare section of Riverbank just below Cochranes Road, downstream from the Gull Protection Site.

A few years ago the Mid Canterbury 4WD Club had been invited to meet the Hakatere River Trail Committee to discuss developing a 4×4 Park as part of what they were trying to achieve with river access.

At that time, Environment Canterbury (ECAN) refused to allow access to a small section of the river, and the project was abandoned.

Step forward a few years, and this time the club finds itself being invited, by ECAN, to a meeting to discuss the proposed “Ashburton/ Hakatere Shorebird Habitat management plan”. The purpose of this plan was once again the exclusion of all public access to the area between October and January every year.

The club explained the difficulty the organisation would face in trying to enforce this ban. “No matter what they did, people with a battery disc grinder will cut through anything they put up, and if they wanted to keep people out of the river, they needed to give them somewhere else to go”.

The head of the working group took this suggestion on and managed to convince ECAN to allocate an area on the edge of the river.

Club President, Marcus Ewart, was then able to negotiate a 5-year access agreement with ECAN, who rapidly went to work fencing the area off. This job was completed, and track construction started by the club in the middle of 2019.

Steve Adam from Ashburton Construction Ltd provided a digger, and the skills and an initial 2km track was completed towards the end of the year, the track was publicly opened in October 2019.

About 50 vehicles turned up for that opening drive, and since then Club Secretary, John McDonald says close to 500 vehicles have visited the track, including a vintage tractor, and a small motor scooter.

“The tractor did better than the scooter,” says McDonald, who saw them on the installed Security Cameras. “The best viewing so far” adds John “was a couple of motorbikes who got stuck right in front of one of the cameras”.

The continued use has revealed a reasonably solid base layer under all the mud on the ground, and the mud holes are getting longer, and rougher, rather than deeper – “so the track is actually improving with use” says McDonald.

The recent heavy rain and flooding that had such an effect on the Canterbury region and rivers has left the park largely unaffected. “Its been open right through,” and is starting to attract visitors from a reasonable distance away,” according to McDonald. “The last time I was down there, there was a small group from North Otago splashing their way through, it’s great to see.”

McDonald says the level of support from ECAN has been fantastic. “Recently we had a couple of morons come through and cut the fence into the neighbours to rip up a paddock.”

“When we were told about it, we advised ECAN, and they were down there the same day to fix the fence and blocked off the access these clowns had somehow found to get there! You can’t get better than that!”

With the future of the Mid Canterbury 4×4 Park looking secure for the foreseeable future, the club is investigating an expansion plan to almost double the 2km track length and possibly develop a tougher ‘challenge site’. To follow the status of the park check out the facebook page which is regularly updated with information and photos.

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