Crystal Pools Falls

Just last week a reader posted a comment on the Crystal Pools post. I forwarded the concerns to the City of Cape Town, and below is the email I received in response. In my opinion, the price of the permits is excessive, and can only be justified if for a start the money is being utilised to enforce the permits that it in fact pays for.

In my opinion, the City of Cape Town has failed dismally. Here are my views:

  1. If you are selling permits to an area, and the stated purpose of said permit is amongst other things the control of numbers to an ecologically sensitive area, surely you are entering into a contract whereby in selling said permits you are then obliged to use that money to enforce the permit system? If not legally, then ethically? How are you going to compensate a law-abiding citizen in possession of a permit whose paid for experience of an area is ruined by non-paying, illegal users?
  2. In a country where unemployment is such a problem, this area, which is in such demand could therefore could consistently generate revenue and could permanently, or at the very least seasonally employ a minimum of one person to attend the gate and check permits. Not doing this in my opinion is in itself a crime.
  3. Yes: this may be a large area to patrol and manage. A good start would be having someone on duty at the gate enforcing permits and restricting access!
  4. “management will review the seasons activities”: how will you accomplish this as due to your failure to enforce your own permit system you will have no reliable figures with regards how many people used the area?
  5. “Baboon management” is a huge concern in a number of areas. One of the critical factors in creating an effective plan would be strict control over the number of people in the area, and educating them as to how to avoid / deal with potential interaction / conflict. This could be part of the role of the person employed to control permits at the gate! People could report incidents to this person and records could be kept.

Here is the letter reproduced in full:

Good Afternoon

Thank you for bring this to my attention. I have constructed a response which I hope addresses the various issues raised in the comment below, perhaps it would be able to be posted on your blog site as a response to the complainant as I note there are no personal details attached in order to contact the complainant directly.

Dear Visitor

Thank you for taking the time to comment and raise concern regarding your recent visit to the Steenbras River Gorge and associated Crystal pools hiking trail.

The Steenbras River Gorge was reopened recently after being closed for a period of more than a year. This was due to various management challenges, including degradation of the environment due to fire, soil erosion and uncontrolled visitor numbers, visitor safety and control problems which had accumulated over a number of years. Despite the area still not being completely restored, public pressure has resulted in the reserve having to make the area accessible once again. A number of rules and regulations have changed. This includes a different permitting system.

Permits are no longer available at the Steenbras River Gorge or at the Sunbird Lodge. This is due to safety constraints as stipulated in the City of Cape Town’s Cash Management Policy. Ideally the reserve would have liked to have implemented a booking system which follows a much user friendly manner such as the one when public pay their municipal accounts. In order to implement this, a new programme has to be built and unfortunately the reserve does not currently have the funding for this. Therefore the following methods are currently available to visitors:
Electronic bookings – visitors can make a provisional booking in advance, pay via EFT and receive their permit electronically by contacting the reserve directly at steenbras.naturereserve@capetown.gov.za Once a permit has been received the visitor prints out a copy and proceed to visit the area on the day.
Cash payment booking – a cash payment can be made at the Helderberg Nature Reserve and a permit collected simultaneously
The electronic booking is preferable as it eliminates unnecessary travelling and avoids disappointment if a visitor arrives on the day to find that carrying capacity has already been reached.

The Steenbras Nature Reserve is an open access in that there is no fence constructed over it’s entire boundary and does not have one formal entrance.
In the case of an open access reserve the “sunrise, sunset rule” applies and therefore the gate will never be locked. Managing access is in a system like this is extremely challenging as there are many people who don’t honour the reserves and regulations. The Biodiversity Management team responsible for this area is very small and on most weekends there are only two staff on duty required to patrol an area in excess of 8500ha. Biodiversity Management also have limited power in the issuing of fines to transgressors and rely heavily on the response of Law Enforcement officials. Access control issues unfortunately are not a priority over the many other crimes the officials have to address. Despite this biodiversity management has been able to apprehend offenders and continue to work on controlling the access and behaviour of persons entering this area. Work records on the 9th December show that only one staff member was on duty on this weekend due to staffing constraints. Management understands the frustrations experienced by those who have gone to the effort of following the regulations. Since receipt of this particular feedback, other operational activities have been minimized in order to ensure there is a more regular presence of staff in the gorge, especially over weekends.

Visitors with a valid permit are encouraged to report offenders and can use the Emergency Number displayed on their permit which is: 021 957 4725 ext 2413061

The area is open for this season and closes for the winter period (30th April 2013). During the next closed period reserve management will review the seasons activities  and will be able to revise rules and regulations. There are a lot of people who are taking the management considerations into perspective and the reserve is extremely grateful for this. Unfortunately there are also a lot of people who are not considering that continued degradation of the area will result in the forested sections of the gorge disappearing. Currently there are large trees which provide a shady gorge environment. Many of these trees are over 100 years old, however due to overutilization of the area there is no recruitment of new replacement trees. This area is being monitored and should there be no significant increase in the restoration of this site the gorge may very well be closed permanently.

Baboon Management in the reserve, is currently a high priority.  A number of human/ baboon conflict sites have been identified and suitable management interventions to minimise conflict are being addressed. The Steenbras River Gorge does present a challenge as the area falls in the middle of the resident baboon troop’s home range. It should be remembered that the animals do belong in the reserve and displacing them will cause them to move to other areas for example into Gordon’s Bay. Visitors are encouraged to be aware of baboons and behave in a responsible manner. In light of the concern raised the reserve will work on raising awareness and make information on baboons more available to visitors in future.

Once again the Steenbras Nature Reserve Management team wish to convey their thanks to you for raising your concerns. Constructive criticism and suggestions are valued and your correspondence will be included into the post season review and will assist in strengthening motivations for additional resources and improved systems in order to better manage the area.

Thank you for your interest and support

Hayley-May Wittridge
Area Manager – Gordon’s Bay
Biodiversity Management – East
Environmental Resource Management Department (ERMD)
City of Cape Town
Telephone: 021 851 6982
Fax: 021 851 2148
Address: PO. Box 68 Gordon’s Bay 7151
E-mail: hayley.wittridge@capetown.gov.za
Web: www.capetown.gov.za/environment

By David

Outdoor adventure enthusiast living on the Garden Route.

One thought on “Official response to concerns raised over control of access to Crystal Pools”
  1. Thanks very much. I really appreciate the feedback. Regarding the baboon problem it was never my intention to displace or remove the baboons, I merely mentioned it to serve as a warning to people hiking in this area to be more aware of their suroundings. Thanks again.

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