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Hard times ahead?
16 June 2016

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s the season of mud.

That means all the riding and running gear gets to go through a thorough pre-wash rinse before it gets in the washing machine (at least it does if you own the machine!).

It also means cleaning and maintenance of the bike takes twice or even more as long.

So, pretty much a pain in the neck all round right?

Thanks to a short trip overseas I’m thinking “maybe not.”

Hong Kong has many kilometres of ancient trails criss-crossing their Country Parks and linking former coastal villages.

They were originally built by villagers as a way of connecting to their neighbours for trading purposes and tend (as do a lot of trails in our National Parks) to take the short route up a spur, along a ridge and then down to the destination.

By virtue of being steep, and having rainfall that arrives in buckets, these uphill/downhill sections are prone to scouring which leaves them as ugly water grooves that are hard to navigate.

In response to this the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has installed nice even concrete steps (in some cases up to 1000 in a flight) which are safer and require less maintenance.

So far so good, but the authorities haven’t stopped there and have now extended the safety initiative by concreting dozens of kilometres of rolling and flat trails as well.

These newly improved trails mean that now some 60km of the Vibram Hong Kong 100 race is on paved surfaces.

Perhaps not unexpectedly there’s been a backlash from runners and hikers who argue the natural areas don’t look or feel natural when they are filled with concrete paths and that the surface is actually causing rather than preventing injuries.

A recent survey established that 90% of Hong Kong residents don’t support the concreting initiative but there’s no sign of the work crews putting down tools anytime soon.

It’s easy to be complacent and think it couldn’t happen here.

However, with an ageing population, a drive to have more people active more often and ever spiralling safety demands and cost pressures making tracks and trails more accessible, safer and cheaper to maintain is an attractive proposition to authorities.

Already we see some of the wild being taken out of trails to improve the gradient so more people can ride them, to reduce erosion and to reduce repair costs.

While not yet at Hong Kong levels, I think we will see increased concreting of wild tracks and trails in coming years – especially in and around urban areas.

The conversation we need to have is about when to say enough is enough.

In the meantime, when you next find yourself cursing the mid-winter mud in the Redwoods spare a thought that things could be much worse without it.

This post was written by

Steve Brightwell - who has written 17 posts

Steve Brightwell is a partnership ranger with the Department of Conservation.

He has been a part of the Virtually On Track team from the project's inception.

Steve lives in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, has a communications background, and is a weekend warrior of modest multisport ability.

The views he expresses for this blog are his own and do not necessarily reflect or imply official policy of the Department of Conservation.

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