The decision to switch the tracks at Ashford Park, announced as we were going to print, was the right one.
It was the only decision that could introduce any semblance of common sense into a saga that pitted two groups of the same community against each other – walkers and cyclists on one side (literally), horse riders on the other.
It was which side of the new track at the park each should use that became the bone of contention.
The owners of the land being used for quarrying, Winstone Aggregates, were the poor buggers caught in the middle. As a responsible corporate entity, they looked at every turn to give the community what it wanted. Good luck with that.
The dispute that erupted was typical of local politics, whether each side saw that or not. At a community meeting at the park in late February, no compromise seemed likely – and it never was.
An increasingly successful equestrian lobby group was understandably chuffed when the four-year-old track was widened and they got the pick of what became two tracks. The walkers and cyclists were relegated to the newer part of the track, which was bumpy, unshaded and narrow.
What no one counted on was the backlash from the walkers/cyclists, and others in the community. They were justifiably miffed that after four years of strolling happily along a pleasant walkway, they now had to risk a broken ankle or bike spill negotiating the rough surface.
Also caught in the middle was the Ashford Park Liaison Group. It was told last year by the equestrian group that the newer track was unsuitable for horses. The CLG took that advice on board and recommended that Winstones give the better of the tracks to horses, and the lesser to walkers and cyclists.
Winstones is obliged to fulfill the wishes of the CLG, so that’s what they did.
Then the proverbial hit the fan. The equestrians didn’t want to give up their new-found prize; the walkers and cyclists wanted back what they had.
Mixing metaphors, one might consider what became a local firestorm to be more a storm in a teacup. But this is what community is all about. Just like families, we have our petty scraps. They seem big at the time, toys are thrown out of the cot and things are said that are regretted later.
But they’re important because they matter to us, to our everyday lives.
The horse riders want more access to places that they’ve never been able to go before; the walkers and cyclists want to continue enjoying their pleasant stroll from Te Roto Road to the river and back.
That the CLG and Winstones did their darndest to accommodate both sides is commendable.
While there will now be some people who are not happy with the latest decision, the call has been made. It’s the right one, and as with all compromises, not everyone is going to agree.
Now we have to hope that we can all enjoy the benefits of a wonderful track that leads to a wonderful part of Ōtaki.
If you’ve not been along this track, which skirts the southern boundary of the race course, you should. The short journey is worth it.
• Ian is editor of Ōtaki Today