Volunteer rangers who have spent decades working on the Whanganui River have been told they are no longer required with the Department of Conservation intending to employ two paid staff at John Coull Hut this coming summer.
The department has written to volunteers, citing training becoming "difficult, if not impossible" as the reason for the change.
A group of "passionate and dedicated volunteers" had been at that hut throughout the summer season since the late 1980s and would be missed, Whanganui supervising historic and recreation ranger Jim Campbell wrote in a letter to volunteers last week.
"This decision has not come lightly or without angst," Campbell wrote.
"The friendships formed, the local connections made, the passion and dedication that volunteers have shared with our visitors over many years has been unique to the Whanganui Journey. This cannot be replaced."
The positions have now been advertised.
The volunteers have been invited to a hui on September 10, where they can meet previous DoC contacts and hear about other volunteer opportunities.
The change was made mainly because training 30 or so volunteers for their one or two-week stints has become difficult, Campbell said - especially since their responsibility has increased.
"To train a volunteer to react competently for different scenarios has become more difficult, if not impossible."
He said another concern was the safety of the volunteers and their visitors.
Alan Donald, the chairman of Friends of the Whanganui River, has been a volunteer ranger for almost four decades and was annoyed at the change and felt volunteers were being shut out.
"I believe in getting people involved in conservation," he said.
Friends of the Whanganui River have spent two days preparing the hut for the summer season, and fellow volunteer Peter Wilson has installed solar lighting at no cost to the department.
"I would love to promote DoC but they don't seem to be very keen. They need a good shake-up", he said.
Donald and his partner Megan Osmond have spent an enjoyable two weeks at John Coull Hut every summer since he retired. While there he traps rats, and has organised for people who are injured or affected by bad weather to get off the river.
At the September 10 hui with DoC he plans to state his feelings, and he's keen to hear about more volunteer opportunities.
"I think they should get a group of golden oldies to camp up the river and manage trap lines in the bush. They'd only need a bit of food and a tent. People would volunteer for that."
Peter Cameron is one of the founding volunteers, and has been a voluntary ranger at huts on the river and also on the Matemateaonga Track.
His first stint was in 1986, before Whanganui National Park was established. He's even been a "roving ranger" based at a campsite.
He's enjoyed looking after the visitors, and watching the numbers grow.
"Over one period of two weeks I had 11 different nationalities. I got to know the French people, the English, the Germans and the Scots. They're a special breed of people that paddle the river," he said.
He's never had a real emergency while in the volunteer role.
"You get situations arise, but we were well equipped and instructed to handle it."
He is philosophical about the change.
"I will not say I'm in favour of it, but what I will say is that it could be a workable solution under DoC administration. I wish DoC all the best in their future management of the river."
DoC operations manager Whanganui, Tahinganui Hina, said people it had engaged as hut wardens previously had been contacted.
"These staff have committed time over many years supporting the department and the visitors to the Whanganui Journey and out of respect for them, it is not appropriate to discuss this publicly until after the hui."