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“Riverkeeper” Appeals To Save Park

“Riverkeeper” Appeals To Save Park

Wanaka river conservationist Lewis Verduyn-Cassels has been given more time by Contact Energy to purchase a property needed for a proposed river park at the Red Bridge near Luggate.

Contact is selling off its land portfolio along the Upper Clutha River following its decision in May, 2012, to cease working on plans for a Luggate dam.

Two of the three properties needed for the river park were recently sold by Contact to undisclosed buyers, however an option to purchase the last remaining property for the park has been extended until 20 May.

The river park proposal, developed by Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Chairman Lewis Verduyn-Cassels, landscape architect Anne Steven, and Luggate resident and historian Graham Taylor, is to create a park on approximately 2.75ha of riverside land providing multiple benefits to the community and the region.

The park would serve as a recreation area, an education destination, a research facility, a native nursery, and a local history resource.

Included in the plan is an open area beside the river for picnics, community gatherings and events. There would also be dedicated habitats for the endangered Longfin eel, rare indigenous plants, native birds, and skinks.

“We were hugely disappointed that we didn't have time to raise funds to purchase all the land we need for the park, but we're pleased that Contact has given us this chance to purchase the last property, although we're struggling to raise enough money. We're hoping to attract donations and sponsorship from people, organisations and businesses keen to be associated with community-based river conservation.”

The plan, which has been developed since June 2012, is backed in principle by the Wanaka Community Board and numerous stakeholders who have provided input,
including the New Zealand Transport Agency, Te Kakano Aotearoa Trust, the Historic Places Trust, the Longview Environmental Trust, and the Department of Conservation.

A dedicated Red Bridge River Park Trust would administer the park for the community.

The Trust would encourage partnerships with schools, technical and tertiary institutions, assisting with outdoor activities and research projects. The river park would be a working native restoration site, allowing visitors to learn about, and engage in, best practice river corridor management and conservation.

Lewis Verduyn-Cassels has lived on the property that he is trying to purchase for the park since 1991, undertaking a 22-year-long native restoration project, while working as a raft guide on the river and advocating for its protection.

He initiated the Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway project in 2003, envisioning a river-length park and trail, and from 2009 to 2012 he coordinated the Clutha River Forum, an alliance of conservation groups opposed to further large dams.

“As an unofficial riverkeeper, I feel an obligation to care for the extraordinary Clutha Mata-Au River on behalf of the community and future generations. Sadly, we're losing a lot of river corridor land with very high conservation and amenity values. I hope we can find sufficient funds to purchase this last property at the Red Bridge before our option expires on 20 May.”

“It's the perfect location for a community river park, and we would like it's opening to coincide with the Red Bridge Centennial celebrations in October, 2015.”


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