Environmental Impact Study
Another important consideration is the ecological perspective. When planning a trail one needs to considers the environmental impact that the trail will have on the areas it passes through. You may have very sensitive areas on your land that could be upset by having a group of hikers walking through on a regular basis. Vlei areas, birds nesting sites and certain mammal species could be disturbed by hikers. Also, I don't like to admit it but the hiking fraternity can have its rogue element along with other sports.
Vegetation and Climatic Regions of Southern Africa (Biomes)
Southern Africa has 7 different Biomes in its region and each represent specific challenges for the trail developer. A basic understanding of these will minimize the impact that the path has on the environment and make for a sustainable trail.
Forests normally occur on the eastern side of the subcontinent due to the higher rainfall in this region. They occur in the mountainous areas of the northern and eastern escarpment and in patches along the KwaZulu Natal Coast. They are characterized by having a high canopy of tall trees with an undergrowth of ferns, vines and mosses. Mountain streams run through these forests and generally they make for great hiking conditions. The canopy of the forest breaks the impact of the rainfall thereby reducing the erosion that might otherwise occur from the tramping of the hikers feet loosening the soil. However, steep climbs may need steps to prevent erosion. Problem areas with trails through forests are to do with maintenance. Because of the high rainfall paths get overgrown and markers tend to get covered by moss or leaves. Another problem is that trees fall across the path and hikers have to make a detour around them. River crossings present their own problems with the question arising as to bridge or not to bridge. My personal feeling is that bridges present constructed dangers (can be slippery or rot) and this should be avoided.
Savanna is epitomized by clumps of small to medium sized trees in open grassland. These areas are rich in plant diversity. Trees often found in Savanna are the Bushwillow (Combretum family) and Acacias. Savanna is to be found in the northern parts of South Africa and parts of Namibia. Main problems incurred in developing a trail within this Biome include keeping the path from getting overgrown and cattle and game tracks can often be confusing.
The Fynbos Biome is to be found almost exclusively along a stretch of coastal belt from Cape Point to Port Elizabeth and consists of more than 8500 plant species. The area is known for its diversity of flowers, known the world over as the Garden Route. There are a lot of very well known and successful trails in this area such as the Otter, Tsitsikamma and Whale Trails. The only real problem, apart from competition, is a continual need to cut back the pant growth along the path.
Grassland needs little introduction to most of us as it is what we find in most areas of the Highveld Plateau. Indigenous trees are normally only to be found in the protected areas of kloofs and under the lee of steep cliffs, otherwise the exotic trees such as the Eucalyptus, Poplar and Black Wattle are the norm. Rain normally falls in the form of violent thunder storms during the summer. Problems involved in laying out a hiking trail in this region are erosion, the real possibility of veld fires and the difficulty in keeping the vistas as natural as possible. Trails tend to get overgrown very quickly during the rainy season and cattle and game tend to use any poles used for marking the trail as scratching posts making marking a problem.
This Biome is made up of impenetrable thick bush and scrub to be found along river valleys and along the eastern and southern coastline. The Acacia family, Karee and Num-Nun are trees that are to be found within this Biome. Problems incurred with developing a trail in this Biome are that the bush is usually very thick, often severely restricting views and the cutting and maintaining of the path through the dense bush. Finding variety along the path to keep the interest of the hikers is also a problem.
Southern Free State, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Western Cape are home to this Biome. These areas are epitomized low annual rainfall and large tracts of land with low woody shrubs and succulents. Extremes of temperature can make hiking in these areas unpleasant for most of the year. Trails developed in these areas have not been very successful due to limited appeal, climate and remoteness from the main urban areas.
Desert an Succulent Karoo
Part of Northern Cape and the coastal belt of Namibia are home to this Biome. It consists of Desert and semi desert with very low rainfall, extremes of temperature and remoteness. Some trails have flourished in this arid and inhospitable Biome notably the Fish River Canyon and Naukluft Trails in Namibia. However unless you have such an outstanding draw card as these you will find it very difficult to attract hikers.
The first four Biomes are those that most of our successful hiking trails are situated in. It should be born in mind that even in the desert there is a richness of life that is also very delicate. When developing your trail, please consider the environment and the little (and larger creatures) that the area supports. As a hiker I would prefer that a trail be not developed if in its existence it is going to effect the environment in a negative way.
For comments and information please contact Tim Hartwright firstname.lastname@example.org