December 2004, Volume 15, Number 11
Grown Like Topsy
If you think that laying two kilometres of railway track seems a small task, ask the volunteers behind the Pleasant Point Museum and Railway....
“It required a massive effort,” says the group’s vice president, Russell Paul.
The track laying was just one of the achievements the group has accomplished in the last 30 years as it works to create a tourism icon that will help pass on the region’s history, and provide downstream economic and employment development benefits.
The track joins the historic Pleasant Point Railway Station with a purpose built building housing rolling stock and memorabilia, and has enabled visitors to take a ride on the area’s former local steam locomotive, the Fairlie Flyer. The group also has the world’s only Model T railcar (pictured).
The project, which is part of the Great New Zealand Heritage Rail Trail (front page), has received support and advice from the Community Employment Group. CEG support is enabling the group to undertake research on how to build a sustainable future for the enterprise.
Many of the volunteers have become involved with the project because they like messing with trains. But running a tourism venture also involves a lot of administration work and meeting legislative requirements -- a task for which paid staff should be employed. The group hopes the planning being undertaken with the help of CEG will help it to transform the project into a commercial venture that will enable the volunteers to keep “playing with the trains” but will also support the development of a paid administration structure.
“We want to be proactive about developing and promoting the project. We are looking at what direction we should go from here.”
Although the group does have some younger members, such as an enthusiastic 17 year old, many of those involved are ageing.
Russell says that CEG fieldworker Danny Gresham has been extremely helpful as a sounding board as the group explores its future options. “Sometimes when you are so close to the coal face you often have difficulty focusing on what the future direction of the organisation should be.”
The group prides itself on its reputation of providing an attractive and entertaining New Zealand heritage rail attraction. “We’re very proactive on tidiness. The carriages are regularly cleaned, the lawns mown and the floors waxed. I guess that comes because in the beginning some of the locals thought it was going to be heap of junk.”
While many people think heritage rail ventures attract mainly rail enthusiasts, Pleasant Point has found that less than two percent of its visitors fall into that category. Eighty percent are the general public, mainly from the South Island. Close to 20 percent are from overseas.
The group, which has won heritage awards for its efforts, has become much like a “family. There is a great sense of comradeship. This is about preservation and restoration, but we also realise we need to be entertaining to survive and to pass on about our history. We began by fencing off the locomotive at the Pleasant Point Station in 1970, but it really has grown like topsy since then.”
Danny Gresham says that attractions such as the museum and railway are critical to developing local economies and creating employment.
“People decide to visit Pleasant Point because of this attraction.
They then spend money in the town, maybe stay overnight, and the downstream effects are many fold.”
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