The Blyde River Canyon park will officially be declared as a national park on Heritage Day, September 24, this year. This was announced by Environmental Affairs and Tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk on June 8, 2006 during a budget speech made to the national council of provinces. The official name of the new national park has yet to be decided on, but according to Chris Clarke who has been coordinating the initiative for the department of environmental affairs for some time, the preferred name of the new park is Mapulaneng National Park.
A workshop was held with many of the stakeholders in the project, and the communities who have a strong land claim over some of the park land said that although the Blyde River has been renamed the Motlatse River, they prefer the park to be called Mapulaneng. This roughly translates to “place of fortune” (ma - mother, pula – fortune, neng – place of).
The new national park will be a place of many firsts, and is already being heralded internationally as a new era in national park creation. One of the park’s firsts is that it will bring one of the richest collections of plant and animal species on earth under formal protection, linking up a mosaic of different landscapes like mountain grasslands, mistbelt forests and woodlands and savanna bush.
This will incorporate some of South Africa’s rarest species, many of which are threatened with extinction. It will also be the first national park to be looked after by a provincial authority. In terms of new environmental laws, the Mpumalanga Parks Board, now officially known as the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), will manage the park instead of Sanparks. In keeping with new visions for bringing conservation and people together, such as discussed at the last World Park’s Congress, the MTPA will also be looking after the park for successful land claimants.
The descendants of those people evicted from the land many years ago will become partners with the state, allowing the state to become custodians of the land, while the communities benefit from the area’s tourism potential. As highlighted at the signing of the memorandum of agreement for the creation of the park at Bourke’s Luck on August 19, 2004, local communities will also be empowered to play a significant role in the new park which van Schalkwyk said “is expected to inject R500 million into the local economy over the next ten years.”
Over the next three years, environmental affairs has budgeted R18 million for the development of the park. The first R10 million of this will be spent on the creation of a public-private partnership luxury hiking trail, which is expected to cost guests in the region of R800-R1,200 for a night’s accommodation. Also on the cards for the national park are 500 beds, restaurants, adventure activities like river kayaking, abseiling and forest canopy trails, and a cableway.
The park will initially cover an area of 44,000ha, but in excess of 10,000ha will be added as commercial pine plantations in the area are rehabilitated and returned to a more natural state over the course of several years. Minister van Schalkwyk was positive about the creation of the new park, saying, “Blyde has the potential to become one of the fastest growing malaria-free tourism destinations in Africa.”
Did You Know?
The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in America and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia.
- It is up to 1,000 metres deep and five kilometres wide.
- About 500,000 people visit the Blyde River Canyon areaevery year.
- The canyon forms part of the Wolkberg centre of endemism, and many of the plants growing in the canyon grow nowhere else on earth. The area is thought to contain the richest combination of plants and animals in southern Africa.
- Some of the plants on the escarpment are related to the fynbos in the Cape.
- The sub-tropical mist belt forests that occur on the mountain are some of the best specimens in the whole of South Africa.
- Mariepskop alone hosts more than 1,400 plant species, and the greater area has some 2,000 species – more than the entire Kruger National Park. Of these, 163 species are threatened with extinction and listed in the Red Data plant book.
- The planned national park will have representatives of 75 percent of all bird species, 80 percent of all raptor species and 72 percent of all the mammals found in South Africa.
- There are more than 100 different mammal species in the park, including more than 20 types of carnivores, such as leopard, caracal and serval.
- There are at least 335 bird species in the park
- 94 reptile species and 34 amphibian species occur there, including some of the rarest frogs in the country.
- Many of the 33 fish species that occur in the river are on the verge of extinction
- More than 200 species of butterfly and almost 70 species of spider have been recorded in the area.
- Alien plants pose one of the biggest threats to the area’s biodiversity.
- The Sand River, which rises in the national park, supplies water to no less than 420,000 people, and is a tributary of the Sabie River that runs through Kruger.