A Beautiful way to Raise Conservation Awareness – Linking Knysna’s Suburbs via Trails
Local Knysna outdoor enthusiasts are talking about the exciting network of trails forming part of the Western Heads Goukamma Conservancy (WHGC). I recently met with Johan Labuschagne, who is one of the driving forces behind this trail building project. Johan is extremely fit and clear minded and subsequently seems to resonate on a higher frequency than most people. He was a biochemist / chemist that worked for SASOL for over twenty years. He also had a cycling retail business for many years and a great love for Mountain Bike Stage races. Currently he owns the guest house, Paradise Found, and a farm on the Western Heads of Knysna called “Mooi Uitzicht”.
We met at one of the trail access points close to Belvidere Heights. Johan enthusiastically explained that the WHGC covers the area from the western bank of the Knysna Estuary to the eastern bank of the Goukamma Estuary. It reaches from the beach (high water mark) inland to the N2 national highway. The landowners of the conservancy and the communities of Brenton-on-Sea, Brenton-on-Lake, Belvidere, Buffels Bay, Knysna and Sedgefield play a vital role in the conservation efforts here. I have hiked and run on some sections of these trails and was delighted by the beautiful flora, including one of the largest remaining patches of the critically endangered Knysna Sand Fynbos vegetation type. The area is also home to several endangered butterflies and mammals such as Caracal and Honey Badger.
Johan started working on these trails in 2019 and he voluntarily spends up to four days a week working on them with a team. He is one of the key people who plans, negotiates and implements the interconnective community trails initiative. Due to some extremely hard work in 2020, the pilot trails have been completed, key relationships have been established, fire resilience work has been undertaken and the large scale removal of invasive plants on the routes has been accomplished. Johan is extremely mindful of respectfully working with the various landowners and speaks highly of Barloworld and PG Bison who are currently the two largest landowners in the conservancy. “They are key to the interconnectivity of the trails. We use existing forestry road infrastructure wherever possible to avoid disturbing habitats,” he explains.
“The long-term goal of this initiative is to establish a strong tourism product of integrated hiking, running and cycling trails that will appeal to the average person and that will raise awareness of the WHGC fauna and flora conservation. We want to educate, nurture and foster an appreciation and love for this endangered habitat,” says a passionate Johan.
The first step in this long process was to focus on two pilot portions of the trail: the trail from Buffelsbaai to Belvidere and Belvidere to Knysna along the unused railway line. The Buffels Bay Ratepayers Association (BRA) chaired by Jacques Malan was the driving force behind the first pilot project trail development. Jacques commissioned the legendary trail builders Corrie and Richard Muller to find a trail between Buffels Bay and Knysna. Corrie, Richard and Johan worked closely together to find the most suitable route that would appeal to people of all levels of fitness and used their respective networks to negotiate permission with landowners.
Fig 1 Trail network
- Existing: Red line –Buffels Trail (Hiking, Running & Cycling)
- Existing: Dark Blue –Belvidere-Lake Brenton – Railway trail (Hiking, Running & Cycling)
- 2021 in Progress Phase 2: Light Blue and Yellow line – (Hiking, Running & Cycling)
- 2021 Planned: Pink line – (Hiking & Running)
- 2021 Planned: Orange Line – (Hiking & Running & Cycling)
- 2021 Under construction: Green and Purple line – Sedgefield Link (Hiking & Running & Cycling)
The routes on Barloworld and PG Bison properties
Figure 2 provides an overview of the current and envisioned routes for hiking, trail running and mountain biking from 2021. The initial pilot project called Phase one traverses PG Bison and Barloworld properties to connect the Buffels Bay region to Belvidere. This trail is marked in RED. These trails will extend to Knysna via the old railway line and bridge over the Knysna Lagoon.
The Blue and Yellow routes in figure 2 will enter the Barloworld property (grey border lines) either at Barloworld “Lower Gate” across Belvidere, the “Top Gate” close to Margaret’s Viewpoint AND at the Western side of PG Bison property (white border lines).
For more hiking and cycling options, click here.
Fig 2 : Barloworld property (Grey) and PG Bison property (White)
BELVIDERE-LAKE BRENTON RAILWAY LINE AND TRANSNET
Johan has established a sound relationship with Transnet and cleared a 10m wide fire break on either side of the track from Belvidere to Lake Brenton. The railway line was cleaned up and made safe, and a hiking, running, and cycling trail is now available for all to enjoy.
FUTURE TRAILS LINKING SEDGEFIELD
Routes are planned that will link Sedgefield with Buffels Bay, Belvidere, Brenton and Knysna. A route north of the N2 is also planned to showcase the beauty of the area to residents and visitors.
The priorities for 2021 include, amongst others, finalizing the access methods and establishing “user pay” methods. Expanding the trail networks and route markings as well as integration with SANPARKS and Cape Nature Trails are also on the list. In order to make these goals a reality – financial support and partnerships will be required.
* Article written by Zandile Meneses – 12 March 2021