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Volunteers sharpen skills at historic sawmilling site

Media release

23 March 2012

Volunteers sharpen skills at historic sawmilling site

Good teamwork, aided and abetted by fine weather, has achieved a milestone in the decade-long mission to resurrect a 1930s sawmilling site at Otaki Forks.

The turntable from a bush tramway has now been fully rebuilt, thanks to the efforts of Department of Conservation staff and around 15 volunteers participating in an annual week-long heritage restoration workshop at the Sheridan Creek site in March.

It complements relics restored in previous workshops, including a log hauler, timber mill boiler and tramway formations.

The success of the workshops - which teaches volunteers historic conservation techniques - is reliant on good weather, low river levels and a willingness to get stuck in, DOC historic technical adviser Richard Nester said.

“We’ve had fine weather for the first time in three years which enabled us to catch up on previous years, and complete a number of tasks.”

As well as finishing rebuilding the turntable, excavated in earlier workshops, the team this year applied rust inhibitors to the timber mill, old rail formations and the log hauler. Between them they notched up 600 hours of work!

Aged from 16 to early 70s, this year’s volunteers are among scores who have helped restore the sawmilling site over the past decade.

“One of the great things about working with such a diverse range of volunteers is the enthusiasm and ideas that each brings with them,” Mr Nester said.

This sterling example of New Zealand’s sawmilling history was close to being lost forever when the restoration project began in 2003. The eight-year old mill closed unexpectedly in 1938 when a flood washed out bridges at the site. The bush tramway which carried the logs to the mill was all but buried, and the abandoned log hauler and timber mill boiler fell into disrepair.

The site is the most complete example of a saw-milling operation from the 1930s in New Zealand. It has many stories to tell, not only about New Zealand’s timber industry but also the harsh working conditions during the Great Depression.

DOC recognised the importance of preserving this slice of history, and devised a way of also teaching the basic principles of heritage management to the community.

“The principles taught in the workshop can be transferred to other community heritage projects” Mr Nester said.

Access to the site requires careful planning as the route is not a formed or marked track There is one major river crossing across the Waiotauru River and numerous crossings through Sheridan Creek itself.

“We recommend people visit the site only with an experienced tramper as a member of their party and only when the rivers are running low. If rain is forecast for the area, do not attempt the trip as the rivers can rise rapidly.”

For more DOC volunteer opportunities visit the DOC website: http://www.doc.govt.nz/getting-involved/volunteer-join-or-start-a-project/volunteer/volunteer-programme-by-region/

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