Prevent motor vehicle road closure in Jonkershoek Plantation / Nature Reserve
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As users of Jonkershoek Plantation and Nature Reserve we strongly oppose the decision taken by MTO Trails – Jonkershoek and Cape Nature to close Jonkershoek Plantation to motor vehicles from 1 December 2019.
According to the announcement made by MTO Trails, the main reasons for the closure are related to safety. The three specific safety concerns communicated by MTO Trails are listed below followed by our rebuttal to these issues.
1. Vehicles within the Jonkershoek Plantation pose a safety risk to mountain bikers, hikers and walkers.
We acknowledge that the presence of vehicles in the plantation poses a risk to mountain bikers, hikers, walkers and runners. However, we accept that risks of this nature are inherent to multi-use roads. In many cases, cyclists will ride along the tar road to the reserve and accept the risk of sharing this road with motor vehicles. Because of the terrain within the reserve which forces vehicles to travel at lower speeds, the risks to other road users should be less than outside the plantation. We accept that motor vehicles should be limited to use of the Circle Route only in order to isolate the risk of accidents to a single road.
MTO Trails has done a fantastic job of reducing this risk of cyclist-to-cyclist and cyclist-to-walker / runner accidents through clear signage of trail crossings and through identification of cycling or walking specific trails. Similar signage on the Circle Route – indicating trail intersections with the road, blind rises or bends and constrictions – visible and intended to inform both motor vehicles and other users of high risk areas would significantly reduce the risk of any accidents.
2. Due to the nature of the terrain vehicles often get stuck and / or accidents occur.
We agree that motor vehicles should be restricted to the Circle Route for this reason (as well as for safety concerns for other users above). In the absence of improvements to road conditions on the Circle Route – which should surely be part of routine maintenance – clear communication of road conditions and potentially even the implementation of charges (again, clearly communicated) in the event of unsuitable vehicles getting stuck and needing to be towed would go a long way to preventing this issue.
3. Visitors are overnighting in the plantation, which is prohibited and vehicles can obstruct fire-fighting activities.
We recognize that overnighting in the plantation is prohibited. Banning motor vehicles from entering the plantation is not a solution to illegal overnighting in the plantation. In fact, banning motor vehicle access makes it more difficult to police overnighting. If proper registers are maintained at the gate then it is easy to identify that vehicles are still in the reserve after hours and these vehicles can then be searched for and the owners fined. Serious persecution of illegal overnighting is likely to be an effective strategy. That careful vehicle registers (signing in and out) are clearly not being maintained is a serious safety concern since a vehicle in the reserve after hours could indicate a lost or injured person and should result in search and rescue measures being initiated.
Regarding vehicles belong to illegal overnighters causing obstructions to fire-fighting activities: this is an extremely low probability scenario. The number of illegal overnighters in the plantation on any given night is not likely to result in more than a few vehicles posing potential obstructions, and the likelihood of these vehicles being parked in the specific regions of the (unlikely) fire is low. Furthermore, since the presence of the vehicles would be illegal, firefighting service should have every right to move the vehicles by force if needed.
The announcement of the motor vehicle access closure ends with the following statement from MTO Trails and (presumably) Cape Nature:
“It is our collective effort to ensure that Jonkershoek maintains its authenticity as a sustainable destination while visitors have the opportunity to enjoy fitness and eco-tourism activities with natural surroundings in a safe and responsible manner.”
Preventing motor vehicle access does not support the efforts you claim to be ensuring in the statement above. For many users the reserves greatest asset is its fantastic trails that wind through the natural ecosystem in the mountains surrounding the plantation (not natural). These trails are primarily accessed from the back of the Circle Route and preventing motor vehicles from entering the plantation will make this resource inaccessible for all but a select few individuals. Arguably this is a step away from sustainability in that it is a move towards exclusion.
As users of Jonkershoek Plantation and Nature Reserve we feel that the decision to close the plantation to motor vehicles is unacceptable. Specifically:
- This decision has been made regarding access to public land without any form of engagement with the public as far as we are aware.
- The decision makes large areas of the reserve effectively inaccessible to many people – particularly children and the elderly.
- The decision severely reduces access for all users apart from mountain bikers and is therefore not supportive of the idea of a multi-user precinct.
- The decision is likely to have a negative impact on the total number of visitors to the plantation which will in turn lead to reduced income and is therefore a move away from sustainability.
- With less use of the existing hiking trails, maintenance requirements for these trails will increase, and these additional requirements will not be supported by permit-related income. Again, this is a move away from sustainability.
We hereby request that the decision to close Jonkershoek Plantation to motor vehicles be overturned and a proper public participation process be initiated to allow us as users to contribute to finding an acceptable solution to the safety concerns that informed the initial decision.
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