By Ali Rogers, DOC.
There’s a fantastic and dedicated group of volunteers in Dunedin. They head out every Wednesday, rain or shine, and clear DOC’s back-country tracks for hikers to enjoy. The Green Hut Track Group have been volunteering for 20 years, and they’re all old enough to be my grandparents.
When I heard about this dedicated group I had to find out more. So I got in touch with their co-ordinator Graeme and organised a day that I could head out with them and learn what they’re all about. A quick phone call later and I was heading to Silver Peaks Scenic Reserve on Wednesday.
A couple of people in the office said it would be a big day, but I thought, how hard could it be? As a fairly fit twenty-something, surely keeping up with a group of retirees would be a walk in the park.
The group this Wednesday was 10 strong, not including me. I only counted as half a person they told me, with a laugh.
Once the weed-eaters and fuel containers were divvied out we set off along the track.
There had been some joking before we left, sparked by my presence. The group was trying to figure out who the youngest among them (aside from me) was. Turns out the youngest member that day was a sprightly 68.
Weighed down by nothing but my lunch and a pair of secateurs, I found myself almost jogging to keep my place in the line. We were not dawdling! We had to be back at the cars by 3pm for a special celebration smoko, so there was no time to waste.
It was no short walk.
An hour in, having trudged up steep inclines and through ankle-deep bog, all at a pace I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, I was exhausted. Luckily, we came to a clearing and stopped for morning tea. Five minutes later, as I was swallowing my last mouthful of muesli bar Graeme stood up, time to go! We weren’t mucking around.
After another half hour or so of hard hiking, we reached our destination: a track veered off to the right that looked decidedly overgrown. Within minutes the weed-eaters were fired up and the real work began.
We spent a couple of hours slowly working our way along the track, those with a weed-eater cutting down foliage at the front, and the rest of us clearing the branches, and hacking off any plants that the weed-eaters couldn’t. It was tough work!
Finally, it was time for lunch. Things became less serious again as we re-fueled, with lots of laughter about who in the group walked the slowest, or had the least skill with the weed-eater.
After a bit more track-hacking it was time to turn around and start our hour and a half return journey.
We had to be back early this day. Contrary to what the group would have me believe, this wasn’t because they were worried I’d be too tired. There was a special afternoon tea planned; we had an 80th birthday to celebrate.
Brian was one of the Green Hut Track Group founding members back in 1998, and has been clearing tracks almost every Wednesday since. He had suffered a heart attack in 1997, and so became part of the Phoenix Club, a walking/fitness group for recovering heart patients to improve their cardiovascular health. The Phoenix Club would regularly walk through Dunedin’s back country tracks, but Brian and co-founder George noticed that the tracks were in a sorry state. So instead of tramping with the group one Sunday, Brian and George headed off to maintain a track instead. And so the Green Hut Track Group was born.
The group has grown since, now including around 30 members. Heading out every Wednesday, the group covers a lot of ground – there isn’t a back-country track in Dunedin that they don’t help DOC or the Dunedin City Council maintain.
The Green Hut Track Group are an inspiring and dedicated crew. It was great to be able to see them in action, and I’ll certainly never underestimate a 70-year old’s fitness level again.
If you’re interested in joining the Green Hut Track Group, contact Graeme at email@example.com
For more information on volunteering for DOC, visit our website.