Thirty mountain bikers have needed hospital treatment in Rotorua in six days of lockdown, prompting a warning the forest could close if people don’t follow the rules.
Deputy mayor and mountain bike enthusiast Dave Donaldson called the actions of some riders “uncool”, saying he’d have “no sympathy if riders needed stretchering out of the forest”.
Concern has been raised that some mountain bikers, walkers and runners are pushing their luck in the Redwoods and Whakarewarewa Forest in level 4, putting themselves and rescuers or essential workers at risk.
The Rotorua Lakes Council has warned it could close the forest if people do not follow the rules.
A volunteer emergency response unit that helps people injured in the Whakarewarewa Forest has so far rescued one mountain biker and one runner. During last year’s entire lockdown it rescued only one rider.
Between the start of lockdown on Wednesday last week and the end of Monday this week, 30 people have gone to Rotorua Hospital’s emergency department with mountain biking injuries, according to Lakes District Health Board figures.
Lakes emergency department head Dr Suzanne Moran said weekend staff commented that the injuries were generally from people not accustomed to mountain biking and were using more difficult tracks.
“Several admitted using grade-three tracks and haven’t biked for several months.”
Donaldson said the forest was an incredible asset, especially during times like this, where people could breathe fresh air, relax and reset themselves mentally.
“But it’s totally uncool for riders to be engaging in a level of riding that causes them to sustain injuries.”
Donaldson said his heart sank when he read that a rider in Taupō had to be winched to safety by a rescue helicopter on Saturday after getting injured.
“This sort of behaviour is not playing the team game to crush Covid and leave our essential services free to get on top of this virus.”
Donaldson said he noticed lots of cars parked around the forest at the weekend and saw fresh tyre marks coming out of grade four and five trails.
“I’ve also seen a few bikes in passing that haven’t seen the light of day for a while.
“If you’ve been off the bike a long time it takes a bit of adjusting to get over rocks and roots as opposed to just riding on the footpath. People need to follow the rules, stay within their bubbles and not attempt any trail above their capabilities.”
Avid forest user and Lynmore resident Maryann Avery said she was “absolutely and totally hacked off” at the number of people she saw at the weekend driving to the forest or riding in groups to meet up with others.
Longmile Rd is blocked off to traffic with a gate, but Avery said the area at the top of the road at 3pm on Sunday was “chocker” with cars.
“I’ve never seen Longmile Rd look like that unless there was an event on. It was like Queen St.”
Avery, who is on crutches recovering from a hip replacement, said she saw riders heading into the forest in groups.
“All these businesses are at risk and no one seems to give a toss. They all just think it’s a bit of a holiday and let’s head out into the forest.
“I just want people to be responsible. It’s fair enough to bike or walk in there if you live close by but don’t drive there. Wear a mask to be safe and don’t go on big distances.”
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Rotorua Lakes Council community wellbeing deputy chief executive Jocelyn Mikaere said in a statement in response to Rotorua Daily Post questions that closing the forest would be considered if people didn’t follow the rules.
“Rotorua Lakes Council, along with landowners CNI Land Management Ltd and forest managers Timberlands Ltd, would consider closing the forest should the public be seen to be putting themselves and others at risk by not behaving responsibly or by not following government restrictions.”
Mikaere said people should take the situation seriously and not put themselves or others at risk.
“Everyone needs to work together to help stop the spread of Covid-19 by following the alert level guidelines.”
She said the main access parking areas at Titokorangi Dr (Longmile Rd), Waipa and Te Pūtake o Tawa were closed.
The council and its partners were monitoring the situation and anyone who continued to flout the law would be referred to the police, she said.
Rotorua Mountain Bike Club first response unit spokesman Erin Eggleston said the unit was operating on call from home on 0800 WHAKA1.
“As riders, we appreciate the opportunity to get out in the forest over this time. We are relying on people to respect the privilege and keep it chill.”
Mountain Bike Rotorua co-owner Tak Mutu said it was quiet at the Waipa car park end of the forest on Sunday.
He noticed all riders were being well behaved and following the rules.
Mutu said every local should be grateful for the forest.
“It’s amazing how good being around trees and the forest can be for your brain and I just hope that people aren’t abusing it … Whether it’s walking, running or mountain biking, it’s not about going out to train for a marathon, it’s about getting out and keeping your mind and body healthy.”
On Monday, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins clarified the rules around driving for exercise, saying it was acceptable to drive to a nearby spot for exercise “if they can’t exercise right beside their home within walking distance”.
“But they shouldn’t be travelling miles to go to the beach or to somewhere that’s a long way away.”
For example, people who lived on a hill and were elderly or had young children could drive somewhere flat to get their exercise.
Forest and reserve rules
• Access by foot or bike – do not drive to the forest
• Do not meet up with others – stay in your bubble
• Stick to areas where you are able to easily stay 2m from anyone
• Be mindful of other users
• Ride and exercise safely and within your ability
• Tell someone where you are going and take your mobile phone
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