Accessibility ramped up

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After an accident left him in a wheelchair, Geoff Wilson, of Wanaka, has gained new purpose in championing better access to tracks in the Upper Clutha.

Mr Wilson owned a painting business in Wanaka, but in 2005 an accident while pruning a tree changed his life.

“I fell out of a tree and broke my spine at T-12 in the middle of my back.”

Since being in a wheelchair he has had a new perspective on living in Wanaka, and joined the Upper Clutha Tracks Trust to provide a voice for disabled access.

One of the success stories for the trust is a new ramp at the Hawea River swing bridge, which will have an official opening on Sunday.

Mr Wilson said he had lived in Wanaka for 50 years and “loved the things it had to offer – ski, tramp, bike, kayak, you know”.

Since being in a wheelchair he had more time to “give back”.

“You’ve got a little bit more time to put into some of these things, and time to think about it, rather than charging off out into the wilderness.

“It took me a while to get back to doing the things I love, and mountain biking was one of them,” Mr Wilson said.

The trust had worked to remove stiles from some tracks and put in chicanes – curves in the tracks that make them more accessible with gently inclined switchbacks.

Children struggled to lift bikes over stiles or up stairs, as did older people with e-bikes and people with prams, Mr Wilson said.

A ramp “makes it easy for everybody”.

Accessibility in the Upper Clutha area was “getting better” but “a few more paved trails would be nice”, he said.

“Wanaka has grown so much, so quickly, that the need is there for it.”

Wheelchair access was one benefit of the new ramp but there was a wider aim of allowing many different people to enjoy the track, he said.

Queenstown Lakes District Council communications advisor Campbell Weal said a comprehensive accessibility map would be developed this year with information including mobility parking and accessible services such as public toilets.

Accessibility was a key consideration of new public infrastructure projects and was one of the quality checks for future designs of parks, reserves and playgrounds.

Upper Clutha Tracks Trust chairman John Hare said estimates for the project had been up to $80,000 but the final cost was expected to be about $65,000.

The ramp was built by local builder Roy Baker with funds provided by local/regional trusts, funding organisations and individuals.

An official opening with Queenstown Lakes District Deputy Mayor Calum MacLeod will be held on Sunday at 10am.

Mr Hare invited all to come and “ride, stroll, push or walk” the ramp.

Group rides would be departing from the Hawea Hotel and the log cabin at the Wanaka lakefront at 9am and from the Albert Town shops and Camp Hill Rd bridge at 9.30am.

For details, visit fb.com/uppercluthatrackstrust.