Dig this summit

Mat Wright, owner of Floyd’s Café and sponsor of the Digger’s Summit, banks a curve while digger Russel Garlick looks on with pride. 


The physical act of sculpting a mountain bike trail out of a Wellington hillside gives Russel Garlick a sense of gratification he doesn’t always get at his day job.

“When you work in I.T. you can change things really quick on the web. On a trail it takes a lot of effort and when you’re finished you can step back and see how it’s done. I think some of the trails we build are really beautiful,” says Garlick, who’s also secretary of the Wellington Mountain Bike club and co-organiser of the first ever Digger’s Summit.

Most walkers, runners, and bikers of Wellington probably don’t realise that the bulk of the paths, trails, and tracks are created and kept in good condition by volunteers, loosely formed into 12 groups around the region, but coming together for the first time at the summit.

Earlier gatherings have usually been at a pub over a couple of pints, so the summit is bringing in speakers from other areas to discuss techniques and issues, from how to mitigate mud to interfacing with territorial authorities and making friends with the neighbours. Those neighbours are also invited, as are representatives from Wellington City Council, which often provides materials for the maintenance and construction of trails.

Ben Wilde, another summit organiser and member of the Wellington Trails Alliance, runs the Miramar Track Project and says when Councils partner with volunteers it saves money and gets more trails built. “In Miramar, we looked at doing some gravelling, getting it, putting it in place. With commercial rates it would cost $10,000. We did most of the job in most of a day for $2,000,” he says, with a handful of volunteers and a couple of Council employees.

“There’s an assumption in some quarters that I pay my rates therefore I should get all this stuff,” he adds. “It happens with rugby clubs and soccer clubs, but with mountain biking we’re a younger sport and we have to build our own facilities. You don’t see rugby teams out there mowing the fields.”

It also gives people that sense of pride Garlick mentioned, as well as stewardship for the land.

“For every metre of trail we build we put in a native plant,” says Wilde. “We’ve planted about 2,500 plants in Miramar over the last four years.”

Summit speakers include international trail builder Jeff Carter, Council’s Parks and Gardens projects manager David Halliday, avid cyclist and author Simon Kennett, sustainable trail building advocate Ric Balfour, and Laurence Mote, who played a key role in securing mountain bike access on the Heaphy Track. The gab will be balanced with a hands-on look at one local project, a group ride, and a “Ball” at Southern Cross.

Garlick says he’s relatively new to trail building and that was a driving inspiration for the summit. “There’s much to be learned from sharing knowledge. I know there are a lot of guys who have been doing it for years. I wanted to meet them and have a chance to chat and go over different styles of building. I’m hoping we can help each other.”

Originally published November 21, 2012 in Capital Times. 

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