Park Status: Open
Awahuri Forest/Kitchener Park was originally known as Awahuri Bush scenic reserve and the main road to Feilding ran right through it from Kawakawa Road to Awahuri Road. The Makino or Mangakino Stream runs through the Park and over time has changed its course as floods occurred. There are several small ponds and ox-bow lakes that dry out in summer but provide the essential moisture required to sustain the forest.
In the early 1870's Awahuri Bush was owned by local Māori who leased it to John Hughey who later purchased it freehold. The next owner Edward Riddiford took great care of the site and resisted calls from the local community to sell it to the Council. When he died in 1911 his son negotiated with the Feilding Borough Council to buy the bush area and local subscriptions were sought for this purchase. The 18 acre strip of land opposite Awahuri Bush known as Whisker's Bush was purchased by the Government after visits from Ministers. The official opening of the two reserves took place in January 1916 and six months later the reserve was named Kitchener Park in honour of Lord Kitchener.
It has been maintained by the Manawatu District Council since amalgamation. Sadly over the years the Park became neglected until a new restoration initiative was put in place in 1991 when the closing of the local meat works left many workers unemployed. Led by six former staff members and industrial chaplain Gavin Scott a group of these men set to work in Kitchener Park to weed and re-plant many of the species that had been lost over the years of flooding and neglect. Funding for this scheme was approved by the Manawatu District Council and voluntary work continued when this ran out.
The massive task of weeding out all the tradescantia (Wandering Jew) that had smothered all the re-growth of native seedlings was a priority. Whilst much of this invasive weed was sprayed, there was also the necessity of hand weeding to ensure the last remnants of the plants were removed. Gradually the forest was cleared and tracks and boardwalks were created.
Sadly there was a massive flood in October 1998, the worst in twenty two years and thick mud swept in and coated the Park wrecking much of the work. The reserve was littered with debris and boardwalks were ruined. Volunteers once again, set to work to repair and restore the Park but two subsequent floods in 2015 and 2016 continued to damage and destroy species.
The Park has been visited many famous and learned people over the years, among them Sir Edmund Hillary, who came in 1996 to celebrate 80 years since the opening of the Park.
Professor David Bellamy has always taken a keen interest and in 2016 Minister Nick Smith came with Rangitikei MP Ian McKelvie, and a team of academics from Harvard University, USA and Barcelona University, Spain, arrived unexpectedly to check on the insect population, in particular the spiders. There have also been numerous university and research papers written on Kitchener Park and the importance placed on its continuing wellbeing. To this purpose the Manawatu District Council established in 2013, a Trust to ensure the survival and restoration of the forest.