I went for a walk on a Department of Conservation reserve this week.

A sign said to walk over the paddock and follow the markers. It was an old sign and the markers were nil — but there was a stile so, after I spoke to neighbours and got directions, I negotiated electric fences and closed the gates behind me, walking on behind the kelpie, who led the way.

I doubt anybody had been there for months or years. There was grass growing a metre high and there was gorse four metres tall at least.

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The overgrown track was a road built about 100 years ago leading down a ridge that was once a main thoroughfare — not only for farmers but for Maori moving between food stocks in the bush and rivers.

I wonder what will happen to this reserve, which holds little attraction to locals due to the lack of clear walking paths and the infestation of noxious weeds.

I am yet to make the calls to find out what is intended, and more than a little cautious that too many questions will spark an interest that will result in prohibition rather than encouragement for those of us who'd quite like to see the area opened up.

There are no easily accessible native forest walks in the vicinity and yet, at the bottoms of these steep gullies, virgin bush lines the river banks and creeps up the hillsides.

I fear that uttering words of track clearing, and possum traps, of working bees and scout groups, of community work schemes and activity towards replenishment of birdsong and rejuvenation of flora and fauna will only bring forth an official with their eyes rolling,

talking about budgets and safety plans, permission from Wellington and competency certificates.

Of course, while we have heard all these cautionary tales about why so many obviously sensible initiatives cannot possibly take place without prior approval in triplicate, we have also seen many examples of local people taking matters into their own hands and, once the project is a success, the relevant agencies are incredibly supportive. In fact, they were in on the ground floor, right at the start.

It would be great to see a trail that extended for the three or four kilometres across the valley joining up with or adding to other tracks in the network. We could build a replacement bridge to cross the stream and clear spots along the track for picnics under the canopy.


We'd have a place to run the dog off the lead, because dogs are banned in national parks and they are the only bush-clad spaces we can access. We could boil the billy with the grandkids on a Sunday afternoon. We'd have a place to stop and listen to the quiet, in the cool.

I feel like this is almost something that has to be done in secret because the "powers-that-be" would stop it dead if news gets out. Maybe I'm wrong to be so cynical about it all, but I have been told so many times that things simply cannot be done. Yet in the country, they just do get done.

So my senses tell me if I wait for others to act, it won't happen; if I communicate with officials my suggestions will be pooh-poohed, my offers politely declined. I think I'll be patted on the head and told to run along home.

What is it about the public servant that their default position is to say "No"?

The more I think about it, my chainsaw finger is getting itchy, and I am tempted to recite the old maxim, " ... better to seek forgiveness than ask for permission".

Chester Borrows
Chester Borrows

Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.