A $30 million-plus chairlift/gondola to Knoll Ridge on Mount Ruapehu could make for a lot more all-season tourism jobs, Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron says.
There's been a lot of change in the district during the last three years. More is planned in Ruapehu District Council's 2018-28 long term plan. He wants to know what people think of it.
The proposed "chondola" is a lift taking people from the Whakapapa ski area to Knoll Ridge, to a separate snow play area away from skiers. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has been asked to fund it.
Two years after it's installed, another could be built at Turoa. Together they would generate 100 more jobs, and operate in winter and summer, Mr Cameron said.
"The views would be quite incredible."
The chondolas are among 36 Ruapehu-based projects to come out of the previous government's Manawatu-Whanganui economic development action plan.
Many are about tourism, and the district's growing attractions for summer as well as winter visitors. But there are also projects for agriculture, especially training young people and reticulating stock water in hill country.
The district's population dropped to about 14,000, and almost half of its ratepayers live elsewhere. Resident numbers are slowly climbing again, according to the Department of Statistics. Owners are spending more time in their "holiday homes" and finding the internet enables them to work there.
A proposed $2 million Turoa cycle and walking trail, an addition to the Mountains to Sea cycleway, still needs sign off from the Conservation Authority and its minister. And another new piece of cycleway is being added, between Horopito and National Park.
An Ameku Rd cycle trail will also eventually join the Mountains to Sea.
Te Araroa trail walkers add to district visitors - about 2000 this year, but Mr Cameron said numbers could easily grow to 4000-6000.
And there are more cycle tourists on the highways - whose safety worries him because traffic has increased dramatically. There are more "freedom" campers too, and toilets and showers must be provided for them.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is more popular than ever, and there have been major parking problems at either end. People are now taking buses from Ohakune, National Park, Turangi or Taupo instead of leaving cars there.
"It seems like the message got through."
In among all this, the Ruapehu towns are being "revitalised" and the district's hill country is a likely place for the one billion trees the new Government wants planted.
Mr Cameron hopes the trees won't be pine trees for logging, because district roads are already under stress from logging trucks. He was pleased to hear 6000ha of pine forest in the Kaitieke and Retaruke valleys will be kept as a carbon store rather than logged.
Meanwhile, tribes in the region are getting Treaty of Waitangi settlements. The Whanganui River settlement is done, and a settlement on the central North Island volcanoes, Te Kahui Maunga, could happen this year.
Ngāti Rangi in Ohakune are getting close to signing, and Uenuku in Raetihi and Ngāti Haua in Taumarunui are mandated.
Ngāti Rangi didn't wait for settlement to begin development. Its 21-year Ruapehu Whānau Transformation Plan is being rolled out, affecting the whole community and even reaching into Raetihi and Pipiriki.
"They're doing a fantastic job. They're really challenging everyone, but also themselves," Mr Cameron said.
There are problems to be solved in the district too. Providing safe drinking water and wastewater treatment both need attention. The council is hoping Government and private enterprise will help fund these.
Mr Cameron expects dealing with stormwater to be the next issue.
"It's the next big train coming down the track, environmentally. It's something we have all got to tackle, for a clean, green New Zealand."