GARDEN ROUTE NEWS - Vegetation recovery in Knysna is well underway after the Knysna 2017 fires. Vegetation is growing, much to the satisfaction of SANParks scientists, who gave the thumbs-up for some of the trails to be re-opened and certain projects to be re-started.
After the Garden Route fires in October 2018 where approximately 37 800 hectares were burnt, the Biodiversity Special Programmes (BSP) led by Carlo de Kock started clearing areas, mainly in the Knysna and Wilderness sections of the Garden Route National Park, after receiving approval from the Department of Environmental Affairs.
"With 30 teams of about 300 people, we opened roads, made firebreaks and cleared burnt areas since November," says de Kock. "We cleared a lot in Diepwalle, Goudveld, Farleigh and Buffelsnek."
The plan for the 2018/2019 financial year is to prioritise burnt areas where invasive alien species could re-sprout, hence De Kock and his team want to first remove any possibility of eucalyptus and wattle re-growing, then move on to seeding species such as pine. The fires have increased accessibility to the areas, which is in the teams' favour. As De Kock points out, they won't need a lot of chainsaws.
"They will focus on hand-pulling and foliage spraying." About 12 000 hectares will be cleared, with the help of 25 contractors. In the 2017/2018 financial year, 7 000 hectares were cleared by 30 contractors.
Knysna's park manager, Megan Taplin, says the good recovery after the fires has enabled the opening of popular activities in the forest including the Kranshoek trail, the Harkerville Coastal hiking trail and the famous Red Route MTB trail.
Taplin says another victory is the re-accreditation of the three Elephant walks in Diepwalle. The committee at the Hiking Organisation of Southern Africa (Hosa) has re-awarded *green flag status accreditation to the trails after SANParks committed to improve safety on the three elephant trails. The Perdekop trail in Harkerville (9km) is also accredited.
* Green flag status accreditation is a global benchmark for hiking trails. Some of the criteria are conservation status, health and safety measures, cleanliness and maintenance, sustainability and management.
• The popular Kranshoek trail was opened in December 2018. The picturesque day hike is approximately 9km. The trail is one of the premier day hikes in the world combining four vegetation types, Afro-temperate forests, fynbos and Noetzie proteoid fynbos. The views of the rugged and beautiful coastline are unparalleled.
• The 2-day Harkerville Coastal Hiking Trail built for moderately fit hikers with some degree of physical fitness and rock-climbing ability, was re-routed and is open. The route kicks off on familiar territory for the first 7,5km, where it joins the old red route section towards the Sinclair hut. From Sinclair hut it continues to Witrivier (11km) where it is diverted onto the green and red route jeep track and finally links up with the original route at the Kranshoek picnic area. From there it follows the original route through the forest to the SANParks Harkerville office. Hikers are treated to a spectacular view of the Indian Ocean between Sinclair hut and the Kranshoek picnic area, as well as at the viewpoint at Kleineiland. The coastal section has been re-routed along the coastal ridge to ensure spectacular views over the Indian Ocean.
• The Red Route Mountain biking trail coastal section through the fynbos area is now open after rehabilitation was monitored for a year and work was done on the part of the trail that offers cyclists a sneak scenic view of the Indian Ocean. Vegetation has recovered and the topsoil is much more stable.
Nico Oosthuizen, section ranger for Harkerville - home to the red, blue, yellow, green and black routes - says the Red Route was tested by some of the local and regular cyclists.
"They were very pleased with the maintenance work done on it. Those areas include tracks burnt during the Knysna fires." Although the route is open, assessment and restoration will continue, mainly due to the sensitivity of the topsoil in some areas.
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