The Department of Conservation has come up with a couple of suggestions to help it earn money.
The first is to have visitors pay for loos and car parks which is stupid.
What would happen if someone’s caught short without any money, or with money and an objection to paying? They’re going to bypass the loo and pop behind a tree or tussock .
The potential for vandalism and theft would be high; collecting the cash and policing the loos and parks would distract DOC staff from other more important work and the costs would be higher than the revenue.
The second idea has a lot more merit – opening up concessions on DOC land to more private businesses.
Traditionally access to much of the conservation estate has been the hard way – backpacking in with all your supplies, roughing it in tramping huts with long drops and without showers.
But there is an alternative – slack packing, or flash packing. You pay quite a bit more but get a guide, good meals, comfortable beds and hot showers.
Director-general Al Morrison said attracting more businesses to work on the conservation estate was a priority for DOC this year, but did not mean national parks would be turned into theme parks. “This is not about Disneyland or Club Med in national parks.”
There were currently 4500 concession holders who paid DOC to run businesses on conservation land, ranging from whale-watching tours to guided walks.
The hair shirt brigades bristle at the idea. But conservation values and money making aren’t mutually exclusive, rather they have mutual benefits.
The businesses create jobs and provide services, they enable people who may not get far under their own steam to see more of our natural beauty and the money they pay DOC enables it to fund more conservation work.
We spent a couple of days at Awaroa Lodge in the Abel Tasman National Park last week. It’s a privately owned, four star wilderness lodge, nestled in to the bush with access by foot, air or sea.
All its supplies have to be shipped in and, a conditions of its concession requires all its rubbish to be shipped out.
Some guests had backpacked in, some had slack-packed (walked in but sent their gear by water taxi) and others were flash-packers who’d come by plane, helicopter or boat.
Regardless of how we came and went, we were all paying to stay and some of that money went to DOC.
We had a wonderful experience, they got some money, what’s the problem with that?