Tuesday, April 23, 2024

DOC urges caution as tracks reopen

The Department of Conservation (DOC) says tracks and infrastructure on public conservation land in flood-affected Southland and Otago have held up well following last week’s storm, but advised visitors to exercise caution and keep up to date with relevant information.

DOC staff have been assessing tracks and other structures across southern South Island following the storm event which triggered a State of Emergency across the region.

DOC Operations Director Southern South Island, Aaron Fleming says reports for major tracks are so far looking positive, but some local tracks remain closed.

“Now the weather has cleared, the clean-up begins. Our staff have been working hard to get out across the region to check for damage and ensure our structures are safe. The major impacts on many of the tracks appears to be windfall – trees and other debris covering tracks – and erosion from floodwaters,” Mr Fleming says.

“This means people will need to take extra care when out exploring, but for the most part, many tracks are open.”

Where damage is more significant, such as large washouts or bridges are down, DOC has closed tracks until repairs or remediation can take place, he said.

This includes the Lake Sylvan Track near Glenorchy and the Mt Crichton Loop near Queenstown. Dore Pass carpark and Mackay Creek Campground on the Milford Road are closed due to washouts, and Freeman Burn Hut in Fiordland is closed due to the risks posed by a dam which has formed upstream of the hut.

“We’ll be updating our website as more information comes through but in the meantime, we encourage people to use extra caution when heading out.”

“Rivers may still be high and land could be unstable so people should use good judgement and don’t take unnecessary risks.”

A slip which caused a dam to form above Freeman Burn Hut in Fiordland.

With significant weather events becoming more frequent due to the impacts of climate change, DOC is looking at ways to build resilience across its network of infrastructure, Aaron says.

“Repairing and replacing assets takes time and resources. The February 2020 storm caused significant damage to tracks, huts and bridges across Otago and Fiordland that were important to local communities, recreational users and tourism operators alike. We’ve made excellent progress with those repairs, with the majority fully reopened but still have work almost four years later.”

“We need to ensure our assets such as tracks, bridges and huts are resilient to the impacts of climate change, and this means it’s not always about simply replacing like for like.

“We need to think differently and plan ahead,” Mr Fleming said.

In the meantime, people planning to head to public conservation land should check the weather forecast, look at the DOC website or contact their nearest visitor centre for up-to-date information on track conditions.

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