Cape Town - The George Trails Project has been forced to take down all signage of the recently opened Garden Route Experience Saasveld Trail System located between the Garden Route Dam and NMMU Campus in George, due to extensive vandalism.
The damages amount to over tens of thousands of rands worth of damage.
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This is according to the official George.org city website, confirming that a total of 25 wooden signposts have been removed and stolen from the trail system, which had been opened a mere two months earlier in December 2016.
"Furthermore, a variety of 66 sign boards that included route markers, emergency detail and sponsors advertising have been removed or damaged," they say. This amounts to 70% of the trail system's signage.
The remaining boards have been taken down to avoid further damage and loss and to avoid people getting lost by following incomplete marked routes due to the damage.
The trail system remains open, and trail users should in the meantime download the GPS files from the George Trails website in order to navigate the routes safely.
"The vandals not only caused damage to property," George.org writes, "but also put the lives of people in danger by the damage and removal of the emergency numbers and codes linked to the Eden Emergency Centre."
None of the 25 x 2.3m sign posts that were removed was found in the vicinity, so it is assumed that it was a coordinated effort and that it was loaded onto a vehicle so chances are that users spotted the vehicle in the plantation.
Two years of planning destroyed
The opening of the Garden Route Experience Saasveld Trail System was a highly celebrated occasion in December last year, when the first Saasveld Trail System with three marked routes was unveiled.
The routes start and finish on the wall of the Garden Route Dam. A new business, Garden Route Experience (GR Exp), made this possible with their sponsorship of the Saasveld System.
After more than two years of planning and negotiations the Green Sport Foundation non-profit company secured contracts with the George Municipality and MTO Forestry as landowners in the middle of 2016, to mark, manage, maintain, permit and market a multi-use trail network (for hiking, running and mountain biking) under George Trails as a sports tourism project to promote community wellness, environmental education, tourism, job creation and to establish a well-marked and safe trail network around George.
Green Sport also provides millions of rands worth of public liability cover through its affiliation with AMA Rider (African Mountain Biking Association).
No other party have previously successfully negotiated or secured trail management agreements with the local landowners and thus there are no rights to previously (and often illegally) constructed trails and sign boards on the landowner’s property by any other party, other than that negotiated by Green Sport.
The parties advocates responsible trail use, trail construction and land management and this is part of the reason they entered into the agreements to make a positive difference to trail sports and nature-based recreational activities around the City of George.
Locals called to help
George Trails have requested help from community members in tracking down the criminals responsible for the damage.
"We kindly request members of the public to come forward with any information that might lead to the arrest and prosecution of the culprits by contacting Detective Sweli on 078 274 1687, sending an email or inboxing the George Trails Facebook Page."
Trail users are also encouraged to share when last they saw the signs up in order to narrow down the search.
The Green Sport Foundation is offering a R10 000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person/s responsible for the vandalism and theft of the Saasveld trail signage.
According to Werner Rall of the Green Sport Foundation, the trail will definitely be restored. "We are in the process of fundraising and creating new signage," he tells Traveller24. Adventurers who would like to make donations can do so through the official website. George Trails is a project of the Green Sport Foundation, which is a non-profit company.
A case of theft and vandalism has been opened with the George SAPS.
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