Regular readers will be well aware that I am a runner and specifically an ultramarathon runner. I have competed in a very special event, the Old Ghost Ultra, all four times it has been held and have waxed poetic (link here) about this event.

Part of my passion for the track and the event is that it truly makes access to the great outdoors in New Zealand more accessible – by allowing mountain bikers and event participants to experience the track, the Old Ghost Road is doing much to spread the message about environmental protection in New Zealand and elsewhere.

And here’s where it gets complex, you see our Department of Conservation, the Government department that holds the responsibility for managing our national parks, is looking to formalize mountain bike and event access to a handful of West Coast tracks. Alas, however, some groups have opposed the move, suggesting that “stampeding hordes” will come and decimate a pristine environment.

The submission period is open and I’d urge you, if you believe access to these sort of environments is an important way to educate people about why they’re so special and need protecting, to make a submission now. For those who are interested, below is the text from my own submission…

I have been an environmentalist and outdoor enthusiast most of my life. In that time, I have seen an ever-increasing urbanization of New Zealand and, alongside that, a sadly declining number of citizens, young and old, who experience New Zealand’s nature in all its glory.

In contrast, I have seen a huge increase in the number of international visitors who enjoy our great outdoors.

While one could simply say that decreasing numbers of New Zealanders enjoying the great outdoors simply mean more space for those of us who continue to do so, and increased foreign earnings through tourism, the reduced awareness of the expanse, fragility and importance of our natural environment have seriously deleterious impacts on those who seek to protect these Taonga.

A parallel occurrence that I have noticed alongside this move towards more urban pursuits is a lack of recognition of just how important it is to well-resource our Department of Conservation and other groups who protect our natural environment. And it is for this reason that I support DoC’s proposal to formalize access to some West Coast park areas for mountain biking and event use.

I have run the Old Ghost Road ultramarathon for the four years since its inception. In that time, I have thought deeply about what those behind the creation of the track have done for the general awareness of nature and the environment in this country. Indeed, despite having tramped over most parts of New Zealand, the area around the Old Ghost Road was a mystery to me and hence my awareness of just how special it is was directly created from my participation in the event.

Roughly 1,000 people have raced the Old Ghost Ultra over the four years it has been held and a simple Google search does much to show just how broadly their experience has been shared – hundreds of press articles, blog posts and videos do a fantastic job of showing the world the pristine wilderness which exists in the area the race runs. This directly results in increased awareness of the importance or protection and support for this environment.

Now some would say that any access at all – by walkers, runners or bikers – has negative consequences on a natural area. It is important, however, to be mindful of the positive impacts that access can bring, and to balance these against the negative impacts.

By making these pristine West Coast natural areas available to entirely new groups of users – runners who prefer organized events and mountain bikers – we will be greatly increasing the awareness of just what we have to lose and how we need to well-resource the protection of those environments.

As a long-time back country participant – both in terms of running and walking – I am deeply offended at some groups characterization of trail runners as “stampeding hordes.” My experience of people who enter events such as The Old Ghost Ultra is that they are some of the most environmentally conscious people around, and have a deep respect for their environment.

The situation isn’t as binary as some groups would have you believe – increasing access isn’t always bad and closing off access to pristine areas isn’t always positive – there is nuance that aggressive and partisan viewpoints simply try and ignore.

In formalizing access to these tracks for mountainbikers and event participants, DoC will do much to broaden the awareness of just what we need to be working to protect.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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