Aongatete Forest Project is celebrating the opening of a bigger and better education facility.
Supporters of Aongatete Forest Project gathered on Wednesday, November 30, to celebrate the official opening of their newly expanded kōhanga.
The wet weather perfectly showcased how invaluable the covered, sheltered space will be for the organisation’s future educational aspirations.
The building project started in 2021 when it became clear that the increasing number of volunteers, educational sessions, and general visitors were putting pressure on the existing 27 square metre facility.
Aongatete Forest Project is a registered charity under the name Aongatete Forest Restoration Trust.
The group manages 500 hectares of forest in the Kaimai Mamaku Conservation Park between Tauranga and Katikati. Some 200 volunteers work to ensure the long-term protective management of the native vegetation and fauna.
Volunteers have been undertaking pest control – targeting rats, possums and stoats – for over 15 years. To date, 65 kilometres of trap lines have been cut into the bush.
A number of rare plant species have also been reintroduced to the forest through the restoration efforts.
Engaging people with New Zealand’s native biodiversity and why it’s worth protecting is important to AFP, which is why the organisation works closely with the Aongatete Outdoor Education Centre and Bay Conservation Alliance to deliver school and public education programmes.
Bay Conservation Alliance also bring their Conservation Cadets programme to Aongatete.
These programmes have proved very successful, resulting in a significant increase in visitors to the kōhanga and forest.
AFP Trustee David Peters explains that AFP has become a “victim of its own success”.
“The old building was never intended to support such numbers,” he says. “It was obvious we had completely outgrown the existing facility. So, with generous support from TECT and the WBOPDC, we embarked on the expansion.”
The Trust received $45,389 in funding from TECT and $50,000 from Western Bay of Plenty District Council towards the all-weather educational base.
In addition to the building extension, the project also included the installation of a weather station, webcams, and Wi-Fi connectivity. The weather conditions will be stored to form part of a long-term climate change record for the area.
“AFP are highly regarded for their restoration and pest eradication work,” says TECT Chairperson Bill Holland. “They have a strong volunteer base and sense of community."
“TECT is particularly impressed by the number of visitors, events and educational sessions that are hosted at the kōhanga. We’re proud to support the expansion of the group’s hub and look forward to seeing their great work continue well into the future.”