Trail Stories: Craigieburn Labour of Love

 The Castle Hill Community Association has been awarded up to $2000 by Trail Fund NZ across three funding rounds to date in 2013 and 2014. The team has a track record of success and many plans for the future!

Photo by John O'Malley

Photo by John O’Malley

On any journey, the first step you take is always the most important and often the hardest. For the committed Castle Hill Community Association – whose journey was to build an internationally recognised intermediate single-track mountain bike trail from Castle Hill through Craigieburn Forest Park to Flock Hill Lodge – that first step took seven years of preparation, but has garnered an outpouring of support as a result.

In 2003, after moving to Castle Hill with his wife for the ski season, avid mountain biker Paul Weber says it was pretty easy to see the huge potential for developing single-track in the area throughout the valleys, tussock lands, beech forest, and alpine tundra.

“There were already some excellent existing tracks in the area, but I believed extending the track systems and linking Castle Hill Village to the tracks would put the area on the map as a mountain biking mecca,” says Paul.

In 2004, Paul joined the Castle Hill Community Association (CHCA) and presented his vision to its members, who were on board with the challenge. From then on, only bureaucracy stood in the way.

“The vision required 25km of linked trails through DOC estate and approval for such a significant project does not just happen overnight, so CHCA and DOC developed a close working relationship,” says Paul. “Over the next six years, the CHCA created a detailed track plan and budget for construction, completed an assessment of environmental effects (AEE), undertook stakeholder negotiations, secured funding and engaged contractors to build the trail.”

In 2010, Doc gave formal approval and construction of the dual-use Hogs Back Track – the first link in Paul’s trail network vision – began in 2010. The 8km track, which links Castle Hill to Texas Flat on the Cheeseman Ski Field Road, was completed with the help of numerous volunteers from different parts of Canterbury and contributions from trusts and organisations.

Photo by John O'Malley

Photo by John O’Malley

“Our kickstart was receiving $20,000 from the Canterbury Community Trust and the amount of support we had from the community – we had 20 people turn up for our first work party over Labour weekend in 2010!” says Paul.

Hogs Back opened officially in 2011 and, just as Paul and the CHCA had envisioned, it was a huge success – with the track counter tallying 8,500 hits in the first year!

“It’s a fantastic track to ride,” says Paul. “With mountain peaks in the background, you climb through beech forest onto the Long Spur ridgeline, then descend across the open flats to another beech forest, before crossing Waterfall Creek – it’s a great bike track, but it’s the scenery that makes it outstanding.”

From the opening onwards, support for the network was much easier to come by.

“The biggest challenge of all was getting Hogs Back approved, but it got the ball rolling and, with the traction it generated, the rest has been much easier!” says Paul.

Next, Paul set his sights on completing the Dracophyllum Flat Track, which links Hogs Back Track to the Broken River Ski Area Road and Sidle 73, which was completed by a partnership between Ground Effect and the CHCA and links Broken River Ski Area Road to Craigie Burn Valley Ski Field Road. His latest project, the Coal Pit Spur Track, is due to be completed in May 2014 and is the final link in the chain.

“Once Coal Pit is complete, we’ll be able to offer mountain bikers 25km of mostly single-track trails in a rugged and beautiful South Island environment,” says Paul.

“It’s been an incredible process to be part of. While CHCA has led the charge, various community groups, businesses, funding organisations and enthusiastic Canterbury mountain bikers have been an integral part of the project.”

This includes Trail Fund New Zealand, which has selected CHCA as a recipient in three of its four funding rounds to date.

“Building awesome tracks to ride is one’s own backyard is definitely a labour of love, but organisations like Trail Fund play a vital role in the success of these projects,” says Paul. “No matter how big or small, Trail Fund looks at each trail building opportunity as a chance to enhance our country’s growing network of trails.”


Photo by John O’Malley

CastleHill – Hogs Back Track – Mount Cheeseman Ski Field Road – Dracophullum Flat Track (Missing Link) – Dracophullum Flat Track (cont) – Broken River Ski Area Road (for more advanced riders, over the Lyndon saddle via The Luge) – Sidle 73 – Craigie Burn Valley Ski Field Road – Coal Pit Spur Track – Flock Hill 

This article appeared originally in New Zealand Mountain Biker Magazine. Thanks to Carl and the team for the continued support of Trail Fund NZ.