The economic downturn in the South Island’s West Coast, hit the Buller district hard but a new dual-use trail is giving locals something to smile about.

The Kawatiri River trail (KRT), a walking and cycle trail that runs alongside the Buller-Kawatiri River, before linking the town with the nearby North Beach, is almost complete and the excitement in the town is palpable.

Westport has benefitted from the opening of the nearby Old Ghost Road, which saw more than 2500 visitors in the first two months, and hopes to capitalise on the cycle-tourism boom, as New Zealand’s most cycle-friendly town. Over the last five years the Buller Cycling Club has been the driving force in creating Wesport’s own walking and cycling trail and volunteers from the community have joined to help bring it to life.

Richard Nichol, Senior Ecologist in the Westport WSP Opus office, who is also a member of the cycling club, helped organise a recent volunteer day drawing in WSP Opus staff from the Greymouth and Westport offices to help with some of the final tasks needed to get the Kawatiri River Trail to the finish line.

This inspiring project has been a labour of love over the last few years. The Department of Conservation recognised the enormous potential of the trail for the community and with its financial support ultimately enabled the cycling club to undertake the boardwalk and bridge construction - the most expensive and ambitious parts of the project. Jason Davidson, Senior Structural Engineer at WSP Opus in Greymouth, stepped in to provide the boardwalk design and a number of qualified builders gave up their free time to help during this crucial stage. Without this voluntary effort and expertise this part of the project wouldn’t have been possible.

The benefits this trail will have for the community are countless. With the nearest school being only a stone’s throw away, teachers and students can walk down to explore the area, plant trees and learn about the natural environment. Because much of the trail passes through reclaimed land, it is gradually reverting to a native forest cover with a great diversity of species representing various habitats. The trail has also attracted a lot of interest from white-baiters who have been quick to recognize the potential of the direct access route to some of their favourite fishing spots along the banks of the Buller River.

“For me, as an ecologist, the fascination lies in the incredible diversity of birdlife that inhabits the area. I’ve noted seven threatened species from the trail – anything from fern bird to kotuku (white heron), and royal spoonbills.  It’s pretty amazing to have that within the town boundaries” Mr Nichol says.

“What’s been particularly gratifying has been the level of local support, in all its many forms.  The journey to get here has been fun but now that we’re almost finished we’re looking forward to seeing the community adopt what we believe is one of this community’s greatest assets”.