Waihi Leader, Tuesday September 5, 2006
Second leg on the horizon
By SALLY GIBBS
WHERE there's a will there's a way through the weeds.
That's the conviction behind a Waihi Walkways' plan to extend the Mill Stream Walkway as far as Speak's Quarry — doubling its length to about 600 metres — which won support from Hauraki District Council's Waihi ward committee last month.
From the "kissing gate" on Department of Conservation land at Baker St, the proposed track would wind behind the tennis courts across a triangle of land owned by Waihi Sport, through a stand of bamboo and into a grassed area near the old villa owned by Newmont Waihi Gold. It would continue under established acacia and oak trees, opening out again either to Morgan Reserve or upstream to Speak's Quarry on council land.
Although gorse, privet, wattle, blackberry, convolvulus, passion vine and other invasive species are prevalent over much of the route (as with the existing Mill Stream Walkway) native species are regenerating, says Waihi Walkways coordinator Ruth Ordish.
"Denudation from mining operations in and around Union Hill has contributed significantly to the weed problem. But, through a systematic maintenance and planting regime, we aim to recreate an environment where native plants will naturally re-colonise and native birds can once again flourish."
That aligns with Waihi Walkways' "big-picture" vision: to form a series of linked walks around the area, to enhance the environment and to identify and preserve heritage landmarks — natural and built — along the way.
Speak's Quarry, featuring exposed blocks of rock and stone, is one piece of heritage that would be made more accessible by lengthening the Mill Stream Walkway, says Ruth.
According to 2004 research by local historian Eric Lens, stone quarried there was widely used around Waihi, and possibly for the floor of the stables on Union Hill associated with the Waihi Mill. Quarry operations had ceased by the 1930s, if not earlier.
The Mr Speak for whom the quarry is named didn't own or work it but he had a house (now gone) between the Grant residence and the conveyor, as well as a shop.
In the sixth edition of the Ohinemuri Regional History Journal, from October 1966, Les Morgan reported that Waihi businesses open between 1903 and 1912 included an east-end fruit shop run by Mrs Speak. However, it's not known whether this was close to the quarry.
Today, Speak's Quarry remains a wonderfully sheltered haven from southwesterly winds, and has been recently "cleaned up" thanks to HELP (Habitat Enhancement Landcare Programme) efforts.
A further "plus" of the proposed new path, says Ruth, is that its gentle gradient would allow it to be constructed to wheelchair standard, allowing the disabled to enjoy safe natural surroundings just minutes from town.
For Waihi, the planned extension "could only be a benefit", says councillor Sel Baker. In fact he'd like to see it go right up to Barry Rd — to offer some "circular" options.
Provided other landowners and neighhours support the project, the walkways group plans to seek funding from Lotteries, environment and heritage grants. Trust Waikato, Environment Waikato, the council, local charitable trusts and foundations, gaming boards and corporates.
"As with all our walkways, each stage has to be funded before construction," says Ruth.
A long planning phase is expected, too, in consultation with stakeholders. One design challenge is that parts of the route beside the Mill Stream (which has had its course altered several times to suit the needs of mining operations) are prone to flooding.
It will be several years before the extension "looks like a walk", especially as other walkways work is in progress too, says Ruth. But one reason the council gives for its support is Waihi Walkways' professional "track record" since forming in 1999.
"The Mill Stream Walkway was our first project — and it took five or six years," Ruth remembers. "You can't just put in a path. We think and plan 10, 50, or 100 years ahead."
IN BOOTS AND ALL: Walkway supporter councillor Sel Baker checks out the proposed Mill Stream extension route through Speak's Quarry.
Waihi District Walkways Inc. PO Box 241 Waihi New Zealand
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