George Trails unveiled

It all started towards the end of 2014 when a bunch of mountain bikers out on a long training ride discussed their safety following some unfortunate incidents that took place in Witfontein.

Mrs Marlene Viljoen (Portfolio Counselor for Sport & Environmental Affairs, George Municipality and Mr Braam du Preez (MTO Forestry Cape, Risk Manager) unveil the information board and GR Exp Saasveld Trail System

What also came up was how they got lost when they started out at their sport and how visiting riders are getting lost because of no marked routes. Something had to be done.

Ms Marlene Viljoen (Portfolio Counselor for Sport & Environmental Affairs, George Municipality and Mr Braam du Preez (MTO Forestry Cape, Risk Manager) unveil the information board and GR Exp Saasveld Trail System

More than two years later after a long and sometimes challenging journey the dream is a reality. Thanks to partnerships between George Municipality, MTO Forestry and the Green Sport Foundation, the first Saasveld Trail System with three marked routes was unveiled on 15 December. The routes start and finishes on the dam wall of the Garden Route Dam. A new business Garden Route Experience (GR Exp) made this possible with their sponsorship of the Saasveld System.

Thanks to the role players in the project. L-R. Paul Hoffman (South Cape Economic Development Partnership), Gerhard Otto (Head of Eden Disaster Management) Braam du Preez (MTO Forestry Cape – Risk Manager) Marlene Viljoen (Portfolio Counselor – Sport & Environmental Affairs, George Municipality), Werner Rall (Director,Green Sport Foundation), Amagene Koeberg (Eden DM Tourism Co-ordinator), Andisiwe Kelem (GR & KK Tourism Intern), Melanie Wilson (Head of Eden DM – Tourism, LED & Communications), Sibonga Mlahleki (Working on Fire), Zabekululge Tyolwale (Working on Fire), Brett Patterson

George Trails is the first trail network in the country to be integrated into a regional emergency management centre. Each signpost in the GR Exp Saasveld System has the 10177 emergency number displayed with a unique code. If a trail users get into difficulty they simply phone the number and quote the code. The Eden Emergency Management Centre personnel can identify where the person is via a GPS layer on their system to determine action and arrange evacuation if needed. Head of Eden Disaster Management, Gerhard Otto has hailed the initiative saying “This can help save lives and costs and make our surroundings, safer. Apart from the obvious benefits to the trail user, we often have to dedicate many staff members to search and rescue attempts which might take them away from their regular work for days and run up costs significantly. Open trails are also less of a fire risk”

The start and finish point of the GR Exp Saasveld Trail System on the Garden Route Dam wall

The George Trails project aims to create safer trails, opportunities to develop nature based sports such as mountain biking and trail running, provide economic opportunities for local businesses,  create jobs and to market George as a top trail tourism destination. The project has the potential to be a major tourist attraction for George with the growth trail sports are showing across the county. “What is amazing is that Werner and Green Sport had the vision and taken something that have been sitting fairly dormant under our noses and is packaging, improving and marketing it as what we believe will become a major tourism product for George. We definitely support the initiative” says acting George Tourism Manager, Graham de Swart.

The man behind the project is Werner Rall, founder of the Green Sport Foundation, a George based non-profit company. Green Sport’s focus is four-fold, namely:  To create opportunities for participation in nature based sport and recreational activities. To educate participants about the importance of conserving our natural environment. To aid the development of nature based (green) sports. To create awareness about the dangers of a passive, modern lifestyle and too much screen time.

 “This is just a beginning of a long term project that holds so many benefits”, says Rall. “I have a lot of passion for our city and off course nature sport and it is incredible to think that nowhere else in South Africa one can find indigenous forest, coastal fynbos, pine plantations, mountains, oceans, farmlands and semi-desert (Karoo) areas all within a 20km radius of a city centre. This is truly unique to George and our trail and natural diversity offers many opportunities. We have a small city with great infrastructure but also our amazing natural surroundings – the perfect place for a balanced lifestyle” 

The project will aim to roll out marked routes for Denneoord and Witfontein trails during 2017 and it also incorporates district roads for mountain biking through the Karoo, Wilderness and Geelhoutboom trail systems. Trails will be maintained and new trails constructed over time. The George Trails website is a hub of information and can be visited via www.georgetrails.org.za

The project relies on donations from the public and sponsorship from businesses who can also get a lot of benefits through partnering with the project. Green Sport would like to thank GR Exp, Terra Firma, Kempston Motor Group and Acme Tool Hire, as well as working on Fire, MTO Forestry, Eden District Municipality and George Municipality for their contributions, thus far.

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