Phalaborwa Gate to be Upgraded

The Phalaborwa gate was voted as the gate of the year in the Kruger National Park last year. As the third busiest entrance to the park, it is scheduled to be upgraded. The existing gate was built in the late 1960s. "During rush periods the gate canno longer cope with the demand and this problem had to be rectified," says Raymond Travers, media spokesman for Kruger.

The park staff have already been enhancing the infrastructure at the gate by ensuring it is kept clean, as well as with added items, such as attractive curtains, that improve the gate's appearance to visitors. The staff have also been on a campaign to give the visitors a friendly reception.

Many of the people who use this gate come from the town of Phalaborwa, using their Wild Cards to make regular visits. With the proposed upgrading, the park hopes to make dedicated channels for Wild Card holders and to separate the day visitors' traffic from those guests who are planning longer stays in the park. This will help speed up the entrance process to the park.

The Phalaborwa gate is also expected to get busier in future, as it will provide a good access point to Mozambique and the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Construction is expected to start in May/ June. "During this time the administrative functions performed at the gate will be done from a temporary facility," says Travers. "We would like to aplogise for any inconvenience that may occur during the construction phase, but believe the result will be a bigger and better gate."

A new building will also be constructed to house the Hlanganani curio shop, which sells the most curios in the park. The shop is a community initiative, and is currently housed in a temporary structure just inside the gate. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is helping fund their new premises. The proposed upgrade fits in with the town of Phalaborwa's intention to market itself as a tourism destination.

The park staff are helping the town's agenda by involving themselves and representing the park on various tourism and planning organisations within the town. The town is making the change from mining to tourism, as the mine's activities are slowing down prior to eventual closure. Other buildings are planned for the Phalaborwa region of the Park that will house park administration offices. The Ndlovu Node of the South African Environmental Observation Network will also be located in this development.

From the beginning of March Dave Balfour will take up his position as the new manager of the Ndlovu Node of the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON). Launched during Tourism Month last September, the node headquarters will eventually be located in new buildings near the Phalaborwa gate of the Kruger National Park. The Ndlovu Node is the first long-term environmental monitoring station established by the National Research Foundation, and will draw together research from both private and public sectors.

This will create a standardised database for future generations to develop environmental policies. Appointed to what SAEON manager Johan Pauw regards as a "crucial" position, Pauw says that Balfour combines "a solid scientific background" as well as "substantial management experience." Balfour comes from an 11-year career in Ezemvelo KwaZulu- Natal Wildlife, where he "enjoyed facilitating and enabling the agency to learn."

He encouraged the participation of external researchers in the New manager for environmental monitoring network parks, and acted as an advisor to park managers. He has submitted his doctoral thesis on "The Dynamics of Acacia Woodland in the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park."

Prior to joining the KZN parks, he spent more than two years working on a project in Antarctica as a multi-disciplinary plant ecologist. Balfour also has a higher diploma qualification in civil engineering. He says that his appointment as node manager is "very exciting", especially after being involved peripherally over the last four years in the development of the concept.

With the step up from a provincial to a national level, some of the key elements of his management of the Ndlovu node will be establishing core sites for long-term monitoring, including those in the Kruger National Park, and linking the environmental and social spheres. He hopes to get high school students "fired up" about biology, as well as establishing partnerships between the node and mining, industry and universities. Until the new node buildings are constructed in the Kruger National Park, Balfour will operate out of offices in Phalaborwa town.

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