Emergency first aid for mountain bike riders who come to grief in the Whakarewarewa Forest will continue this summer thanks to a new $25,000 grant from BayTrust.

Rotorua Mountain Bike Club applied for funding to help continue running its professional First Response Unit on weekends and during peak holiday times. Paid medics have been working in the forest since December 2016 and have attended more than 160 callouts to help people of all ages and riding abilities.

"It's often the people who ride above their skill level on average grade trails who get into difficulty," said club secretary Barbara Jenks.

"But having said that, we do have callouts across all trails. Our average response time is seven to eight minutes which is outstanding when you consider how big the forest is."

The First Response Unit's quick actions and medical care have been credited with preventing cases of paraplegia, and a good working relationship has now been established with St John and rescue helicopter services around the region.

Jenks said the patrollers also focused on injury prevention by offering basic bike safety and helmet checks, and giving advice to the public about appropriate trails for the level of rider experience.

First response medics who help injured people in the Whakarewarewa Forest Carl Jones (left) and Mark
First response medics who help injured people in the Whakarewarewa Forest Carl Jones (left) and Mark "Budgie" Woods. Photo/supplied by Nick Lambert

"There's nothing else like it in New Zealand at all. It's quite unique for a club to provide this professional service. The patrollers are themselves mountain bikers and therefore familiar with the forest and are able to navigate to an incident much faster than an ambulance."

The grant will be used to help pay professional patrollers from Peak Safety and fund other operating costs such as radios, fuel, signs and stickers for bike helmets which feature the 0800 WHAKA1 phone number.

"We are thrilled to receive this grant. If we don't receive funding, we can't run the service, it's as simple as that. We do rely on donations, grants and fundraising and this money will fund one patroller for about 50 days. It makes a huge difference to receive large sums of money like this."

Jenks said the First Response Unit gave riders peace of mind they would be well looked after in the event of an accident.

"It also ensures that our forest is recognised as a safe, well-managed biking destination of international standard. We couldn't be without it now."

BayTrust chief executive Alastair Rhodes said Rotorua was regarded as one of the world's top mountain biking destinations and it makes sense to have a professional patrol service on hand.

"Mountain biking is a fantastic way to keep fit and active, and get outdoors to enjoy our natural environment. Having trained medics available at busy times to provide emergency medical help in the Whakarewarewa Forest is a great way to ensure our community stays safe and can continue doing the things they love.

"BayTrust's aim is to make the Bay of Plenty the greatest place to be, so we're proud to support the Rotorua Mountain Bike Club's efforts with this grant."

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