Urban forest find

Urban forest find

On Auckland's north-western doorstep lies a rare expanse of unpeopled land that is worked by foresters, eyed by developers and enjoyed by hundreds of mountain bikers

Tucked in relative anonymity behind the small township of the same name at the top of the Waitemata Harbour, Riverhead is one of a clutch of northern-region state forests which includes Woodhill and Maramarua.

Thanks to a good relationship with forest administrator Matariki forests, a company who encourages recreational use of the area, it's become home base for the West Coast Riders Club (WCRC) and hundreds of mountain bikers from in and around Auckland.

However, with unpeopled parks in hot demand in the growing metropolis, the forest is a hub of activity for more than just mountain bikers.

"Motorcyclists, Horse riders, walkers and trail runners all hold events in the forest, so it's essential to work with and respect all the user groups " says WCRC president Vaughn Blind.  

When mountain bikers started filtering in about 15 years ago, they were encroaching on an area where motorcyclists had been building and riding trails for decades, so a core crew formed the club to determine the best way forward.

"The result is that we have two fairly separate areas and, while there's crossover on some occasions, it works very well," says Vaughn. "We basically maintain our area and they maintain theirs, but also help each other out."

The club, which is a registered charity, is dedicated to the creation and preservation of the free-to-ride mountain bike facility they've developed over the years. Designed for riders of all abilities and skills, the area has become a popular mountain biking destination in the Auckland region for both families and enthusiasts alike.

Vaughn, who became president four years ago after spending years riding in the forest, says it's been great to see the network, and the number of people riding it, increase steadily.

"It's a great forest with a wide variety of trails and it's free to ride," says Vaughn. "We've got about 25 trails and one of Auckland's best dirt pump tracks, so it's not a surprise that more and more people are turning up to ride."

Meeting demand

For the traditionally small club, the increased interest in the park has sparked the best conundrum a trail building crew can ask for – they had more people than expected turning up for digs.

"We have a solid crew of about eight to ten regulars who always turn up to working bees, but over the past year we've had more and more joining in – sometimes 30 to 40 volunteers!

"While it's awesome to get such big numbers, we were struggling to provide tools to everyone as we didn't have many club-owned ones. The last thing we wanted to do was turn people away, or force them to buy their own, so we decided to apply to Trail Fund for a grant to purchase more."

Six rakes, two wheel barrows, seven shovels, four spades, six mattocks and a chainsaw later, Vaughn says the club is better equipped than ever to keep the network in shape, and the timing couldn't have been better.

"We try and get as much done as possible in the lead up to summer before the dirt gets rock hard, and with the increasing number of riders, there's plenty of maintenance to be done. We try and build one new trail a year, but most of our time goes towards maintaining the existing track network.

"Riverhead is a great alternative to the other riding options in Auckland, and we're doing our best to promote that and keep the trails running well. It's great to receive Trail Fund support that ensures we can continue to do so."