The first month of every new year is normally a time for resolutions, new hopes, determination and a fresh lease on life. And while this is true for the Garden Route National Park (GRNP), it has also become a time for reflecting over the past year. 2014 was not only the year which marked twenty years in South Africa’s young democracy, it also marked the 50th year of successful management of the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area (MPA).
After 50 years it was time for the GRNP to do some introspection in terms of its relevance in today’s changing society. How does the GRNP contribute towards the SANParks’ vision of “Connecting Society”? The Park did remarkably well, with an increase of income 22 % just over this last year and an operational budget within 1% of forecast.
Was visitor hard-earned money spent well? One of many visitors who were impressed with the GRNP is Judith February of the International Security Studies (ISS). ‘I visited the Garden Route during December, and in particular the Knysna estuary (now also a Hope Spot), for many years now. The Southern Cape is surely one of the most beautiful parts of our country, with its often brooding skies, its pristine beaches and rivers and its mystical forests. Much of the beauty in Knsyna comes from the estuary which is unique in its biodiversity. The GRNP covers a very large area and the balance clearly has to always be maintained between development and our rich natural heritage. The GRNP clearly strives to meet this challenge with the appropriate degree of thoughtfulness. As a regular annual visitor, it is heartening to see the care taken within the GRNP to preserve this natural heritage for future generations. Whether it is through the information it provides tourists, its friendly and helpful information desk or ensuring the continued survival of the Knysna sea-horse, the GRNP continues to do sterling work on behalf of citizens. The GRNP covers a large expanse (from Wilderness-Knysna-Tsitsikamma) and is managed with the appropriate sensitivity. It is wonderful to see people from all walks of life and of all hues enjoying the space and freedom which the GRNP offers. From fishing in its estuaries to the beautiful vistas of its chalets and the incomparable views of the sea and forests of the Tsitsikamma, the GRNP is a place for everyone’ says February.
An increase in visitors of 19% and notably in black visitor numbers of 11,4% revealed improved stakeholder relations and outreach programmes with local government structures and neighbouring communities. Local government departments are increasingly using the park’s many attractions and accommodation options as a base for important workshops. Local events companies use the restcamps as event villages for activities such as the world-renowned Otter Trail run, Merell Eden Duo, Southern Storm and the Outeniqua challenge amongst many.
During the launch of the SANParks week, a week during which free access is granted to all SA citizens, especially those from previously disadvantaged communities, The Honourable Minister of Arts and Culture, Ms. Rejoice Mabudafasi said: “Our National Development Framework (NDP) aims to ensure a decent standard of living through the elimination of poverty and reduction of inequality. The core of a decent living standard contains amongst other areas that the Department of Environmental Affairs (SANParks) deals with directly are: Housing, water, electricity and sanitation; Quality of education and skills development, Social protection; Employment; Recreation and leisure and a clean environment. In Connecting Society , the vision of SANParks , as well as effectively managing our mountain catchment areas, rivers and river mouths, estuaries, wetlands, and associated alien clearing programme, the Garden Route National Park makes a significant contribution towards providing clean water to the towns of Wilderness, Sedgefield and Knysna. Via the extensive Biodiversity Social Programme (BSP) the park currently provides employment to 1200 people and this programme also provides various skills development to the beneficiaries. Apart from the municipalities, the GRNP is the biggest employer, with permanent and contract staff, providing 324 permanent jobs and some additional 150 jobs via concessionaires. A Training Plan ensures that staff and contractors are trained and developed to perform their jobs optimally.
The Honourable Tourism Minister, Derec Hanekom visited the park on two occasions, one to open the Blue Flag Beach season as well as the declaration of the Knysna Estuary, the top estuary in terms of biodiversity value, as an International Hope Spot, showing a clear commitment from government to support all the conservation initiatives.
While an increase in all above indicators is excellent, we have committed to remain dedicated to conserve and protect the Park’s magnificent natural and cultural resources, which we manage. 2015 will see us dedicated to the responsible increase in tourism infrastructure and activities, the growth in BEEE opportunities, continued capacity building of both permanent and temporary staff and continued passion to protect and serve. We are looking forward to welcome all our visitors back to showcase new and improved products.”
How to get to the GRNP (Wilderness, Knysna and Tsitsikamma), call central reservations 044 302 5600 or visit http://www.sanparks.org.za/parks/garden_route/
Jill Bunding-Venter is the General Manager of the Garden Route National Park which has 3 sections (Wilderness, Knysna and Tsitsikamma).