Community work offenders in Rotorua have built a bike track for children to learn to ride.
Department of Corrections Community Work Supervisor Malcolm McHale (or 'Whero' as he is called locally), Rotorua Lakes council worker Ray Keers, and Rotorua community work centre offenders have teamed up to create the 'Mokopuna Trail' in Whakarewarewa Forest (known to locals as the 'Redwoods').
The Mokopuna track is 3.6kms long and is the only track in the heart of the Redwoods that is designed for both walking and biking.
The track was originally designed for families to take their children while they were learning how to ride "balance bikes" while their parents walked beside them, said Corrections Rotorua, Taupo Tokoroa District Manager Raema Mackay.
"The track twists and turns to keep the gradient low, hence the distance. There are no steep hills or sharp corners like many of the other tracks in the Redwoods. The community work crew worked with Whero to plan the track so it would be as accessible and useable as possible for local whanau while still giving them that special Redwoods experience."
The 56- hectare Whakarewarewa Forest has long been a favoured playground for horse riders, mountain bikers, walkers and hikers drawn to its magnificent stands of towering native and exotic trees, especially its Californian Coastal Redwoods.
Whero has been working in the Redwoods for more than 20 years and over this time has designed and built many walking and mountain bike tracks.
To start the Mokopuna track, all undergrowth including trees, scrub and ponga had to be cleared in order to create the pathway. Once completed, gravel was laid out to define the track.
The effort put in to develop the track can be clearly seen with the amount of gravel that was used. Gravel was delivered to the Redwoods by the truckload, with each one covering about 30 metres. In all, the track required 120 truckloads of gravel.
It was a lot of hard work which really showed the dedication and patience of those involved, says Raema.
"Once all the gravel was delivered, it was moved manually by the Corrections' team who shovelled it onto a trailer that was carted in to the forest, and then shovelled it off the trailer on to the track. It certainly wasn't an easy job but those who put in the labour are really proud of what they have achieved, with many of the offenders returning with their own children to show off their handwork."
Raema praised the efforts of Whero, the Rotorua Community Work team and Rotorua Community Work Offenders.
"Rain, hail or shine, Whero would pack up his crew and head to the track. Many offenders have commented on how proud they are that this is something they have helped to create and somewhere they can take their whanau to bask in its beauty."
Working on the track is about more than just contributing to the community, said Raema.
"Although it's important to give something back, it's also important that we help people to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes that are going to help them to not commit further crimes. In relation to the work done here, there are the obvious skills such as track building, health and safety, basic tool use, landscaping, and plant identification. However there are also less obvious but equally important things like learning to work well with others, developing a good work ethic, problem solving, interpersonal communication, and time management.
"When we combine projects like this with initiatives like our suite of Work and Living Skills programmes and our education, training and employment interventions, we often see fantastic positive change in the people we are working with."
Since January, people serving community work sentences in Rotorua have completed more than 41,000 hours on various projects which have contributed to the local community. Of those hours, nearly 7,500 have been spent working with Whero on tracks in the bush. Other tracks completed by the crews include the Puarenga Stream track, Duck Pond, and the Kurungaituku Track - just to name a few.
Another big project currently underway is at Te Puna o Pekehaua - Taniwha Springs.