A proposal to link a long-distance cycling route from Greymouth to the Glacier Country has been met with interest as Fox and Franz Josef seek solutions to their dearth of domestic Tourists.
In a meeting of the West Coast Conservation Board last week, it was suggested that current plans for a tourism trail from the Ōkārito wetlands to Fox Glacier be extended to Ross.
Part of the West Coast's long-term development project Te Tai o Poutini Plan (TTPP) the Ōkārito route was regenerative tourism and a long-term visitor strategy.
However Queensland-based Planning and Innovation manager Hadley Mills decided the Regional Council had not set their sights high enough.
The aim of this far more ambitious cycle route would be to link up with the 140 kilometres of existing track to create a cycle highway from Fox to Greymouth.
Attending the meeting via video link, he said there was "further opportunity during the planning stage to earmark a future connection between this proposed trail and the existing Wilderness Trail ending at Ross."
The plan which comes up for public consultation next year comes at a time when the Glacier Country is struggling for domestic tourism.
With the region struggling for international tourists and a five-to-six-hour drive from Christchurch, tourism businesses such as backpackers and scenic flights have been struggling to attract visitors.
"The current draft Plan includes strong strategic direction in support of the tourism industry, and walking and cycling generally," said TTPP project manager, Jo Armstrong.
"We anticipate that it should be a relatively simple matter to build something like the West Coast Wilderness trail from a TTPP regulation perspective."
However from a practical perspective it might be a far longer haul.
The 'extension' is four times the length of the proposed Ōkārito to Franz Josef route, and would double the length of the existing West Coast Wilderness Trail.
The West Coast Wilderness trail has taken over half a decade to develop, with the most recent 25km section costing $10m to construct.
The Herald understands that the West Coast Wilderness Trail trust was supportive of the idea of extensions but was not sure if the realities of building, maintaining and managing a trail between Greymouth and Fox could be balanced.
With under 7000 cyclists a year completing the trail, the extension would be difficult to justify.
Hopefully by the point it was decided upon borders will be reopened and the Coronavirus will be a distant memory.
A practical suggestion or not, the extension shows the region's desire to diversify away from an over reliance on international tourism and the glaciers. While the ice fields of Te Wāhipounamu remain a Unesco area of 'Outstanding Universal Value', the threats from climate change to the remote and fragile region have given cause to think about a more long-term visitor strategy.