The George Trails Project is addressing the need for an easy to navigate cohesive trail network in and around George that expands the human powered trail opportunities for different skill levels and different trail experiences. Given the pristine natural beauty of the City of George and the Garden Route there is enormous potential for recreational sport in and around George. A well-resourced and well-utilized recreational trail network is an important element in realizing that potential.
The need arose from a variety of reasons such as locals and tourists not knowing where to hike, run or ride and getting lost on unmarked trails, safety concerns on trails, rogue trail building risks and the fact that George does not have a large sustainable tourism attraction/product.
The George Municipality have already officially given the project its blessing and the marking and maintenance of routes on their land was approved by the City Council.
With its pristine natural beauty, hundreds of kilometers of existing trails, national airport and central positioning as the largest city in the Southern Cape we consider George as a sleeping giant for the development of trail sport and there is no reason why it cannot become the ‘next big thing’ particularly in mountain biking in SA.
George Trails will benefit the following groups:
- George residents – trails offer opportunities for outdoor physical activity, promoting physical fitness and mental health and well being.
- Tourists – walking, trail running and mountain biking are very important niche products and the George trails can become a major attraction
- George businesses – a trail network provide opportunities, job creation and the platform to develop new and innovative tourism initiatives that can contribute to the economic sustainability of George particularly through the hospitality, recreation and sport sectors. This product will extend the tourism season and increasing spending.
- Land Owners – who can benefit from trails running over their property via possible income from permits and tourism related activities they introduce. The George Trails website and social media platforms can act as an ‘voice’ for land owners/nature conservation organizations who need to communicate important information to trail users such as where harvesting is taking place, fire risks, new legislation, etc.
- Local Clubs – club memberships will soar as mountain biking and trail running is promoted through the project’s many benefits and the well-marked trail systems
- Partners – Businesses and Organizations partnering with Green Sport and the project will not only benefit from being seen as a good corporate citizen investing in the social wellbeing of the community but will also benefit from extensive promotion through the website, signage, social media, events, branding and database of members in the near future.
Why George Will become a major trail destination
The Garden Route already have a great reputation as a trail sport destination but George as the largest city in the region is a true sleeping giant that is about to awaken. These are the attributes that makes it attractive:
No place in the country will you find indigenous forest, coastal Fynbos, pine plantations, mountains, oceans and semi-desert (Karoo) areas all within a 20km radius from the city centre. George offer pristine natural beauty all around, and all year round – 360° of natural splendour.
George Trails will offer a variety of trail systems and routes catering for all trail users (from a mountain biking perspective, for beginner to advance) Whether it is winding mountain passes, technical single track or scenic district roads through the farmlands, George Trails cater for all type of users no matter what their skill or fitness levels. Most of the trails are accessible for trail runners, hikers and mountain bikers.
The City of George features excellent infrastructure as the business centre of the Southern Cape region. The regional airport is located here and the national N2 highway passes by the city. Furthermore many franchise businesses have representation in the city which also features strong medical, hospitality and financial services sectors. The Go George bus service makes all areas easily accessible and the Garden Route Mall is a regional retail hub.
Value for money
George is a cost effective trail tourism destination and on average cost of living, accommodation, restaurants and attractions are considerably cheaper than other major trail destinations such as Stellenbosch and Pietermaritzburg.
George (and Wilderness) offers a large variety of quality hotels, guest houses, golf courses, shopping centres, a mountain range and three beaches (Victoria Bay, Harold’s Bay and Wilderness) It is the perfect base from which to explore the Garden Route & Klein Karoo region as it is surrounded by the towns of Knysna, Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn. The local tourism industry offer good service and are known for their warm hospitality.
The Cross Cape
The Cross Cape trail is an ‘iconic’ mountain biking trail which will run from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay. It is a project initiated by Minister Alan Winde and driven by Wesgro. The first phase earmarked for launch in 2017 is from George to Plettenberg Bay. George and George Trails are central to it all and this will enhance George as a trail destination.
It is safe
George is considered a safe destination and by marking routes for more regular use through the George Trails project, it will become even safer.
George Trails is innovative
George Trails will be the first trail network in the country to offer an online self-print permit system, making obtaining an trail permit hassle free as it is payable online and can be self-issued or displayed on a smartphone.
The network’s signage system was developed in partnership with Eden District Municipality’s Disaster Management Centre. Each signboard will feature a unique code. In event of an injury or crime users can phone the emergency number on the signboard and quote the code in order for police or emergency services to determine where they are.
George Trails creates opportunities to create jobs, develop trail sports and clubs, grow tourism, grow local businesses, organise events and offer excellent marketing opportunities to partners that invest in George Trails.
It is for the community
By supporting George Trails you are also supporting the Green Sport Foundation NPC and helping to develop a product that will lead to a healthier and more productive community. Getting adults and children away from spending too much time in front of the TV and computers and connecting with nature.
Information readily available
Through its website George Trails offer a large variety of trail specific information from route choices and downloadable GPS files to safety precautions and events.
Communicates to a large audience
Through its permit database, newsletter, social media and media partners George Trails will communicate to a large audience of trail users on safety risks, landowner issues, special promotions, upcoming events, news and much more.
Sights on route
The George Trails network reaches as far as Knysna in the East and Oudtshoorn in the West and hamlets such as Wilderness, Hoekwil, Great-Brak, Friemersheim and Herold.
There are many heritage sites along the routes and places of interest includes the Montagu Pass, Map of Africa, Seven Passes, Garden Route Botanical Gardens, etc
George Trails is affiliated to Amarider (African Mountain Bike Association). Official Amarider Trails Affiliate status gives recognition to trail systems who subscribe to, and uphold the standards as prescribed in the Trails Management Program (TMP).
Not only does affiliates benefit from the insurance and risk management advantages of the TMP, but are also promoted as best practice sites via the Amarider database.
Green Sport Foundation is affiliated as a Supporting Organization Member with the IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association).
- To work with land managers and stake holders to establish the George Trails network.
- To map, mark (signage), market and maintain a professional trail network and in the process develop it into a sustainable tourism product for the City of George.
- To promote the wellbeing of the community by creating more opportunities to participate in sport and recreational activities in a natural environment.
- To educate and advocate responsible trail use and nature conservancy in the process.
- To inform via our marketing platforms such as website, social media and newsletter what is happening in our ‘world of trails’
- To be the voice for land managers and stake holders, communicating their needs to our database and community.
- To create a sense of belonging to the trail using community
- To create safer trails.
- To create well maintained and sometimes new trails.
- To create jobs.
- To promote our heritage along the trails.
- To create economic opportunities for the local community.
Key Wellness Benefits of Trails
Trails and greenways provide natural, scenic areas that cause people to actually want to be outside and physically active. In this age of expensive indoor gyms and health clubs, trails and greenways offer cost-effective places to exercise. Like gyms and health clubs, they also serve as a place where people can see and interact with other people exercising. Researchers have found that a lack of this type of social support is often a barrier to participation in exercise.
The significant benefits of physical activity include helping to:
- Control weight.
- Reduce risk for type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and colon cancer.
- Control high blood pressure.
- Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Prevent osteoporosis and falls.
- Reduce arthritis pain and disability.
- In addition to the health benefits associated with physical activity, a more active population can yield potential economic benefits by reducing the cost of: medical care and sick leave, absenteeism in the workplace; health insurance claims and maintaining the independence of older adults, thereby reducing the cost of institutional care.
Key economic benefits of organised trails
- Trails increase the value of nearby properties.
- Trails boost spending at local businesses. Communities along trails, often called ‘trail towns’, benefit from the influx of visitors going to restaurants, snack shops and other retail establishments. On longer trails/larger trail networks, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and outdoor outfitters benefit.
- Trail building and maintenance create jobs.
- Trails make communities more attractive places to live. When considering where to move, home buyers rank walking and biking paths as important features of a new community.
- The trail network will make the City of George more attractive and can be its biggest sustainable tourism product.
- Trails influence business location and relocation decisions. Companies often choose to locate in communities that offer a high level of amenities to employees as a means of attracting and retaining top-level workers. It can make communities attractive to businesses looking to expand or relocate both because of the amenities they offer to employees and the opportunities they offer to cater to trail visitors.
- Trails can possibly reduce medical costs by encouraging exercise and other healthy outdoor activities.
- Trails revitalise depressed areas, creating a demand for space in what were once vacant buildings.
- Trails provide low or no-cost recreation to families with low costs relative to other recreational options.
- Trails increase tax revenues in the communities in which they are located.
- These benefits represent a huge economic return on the money invested into trail projects. The costs of land acquisition for trails, trail construction and maintenance are far outweighed by the economic benefits generated by trails.
Key Environmental/Land Manager benefits of organized trails
- Trail systems protect regionally significant natural landscapes and/or significant or unique natural features. Through protection of resources and preservation of open space, trails define zones free of human habitation and development areas.
- Outdoor recreation has also proven to be one of the best sources of environmental education. Organized trails provide information to visitors/users about the importance and value of our natural environment. Through personal interactions with vegetation, geology and wildlife, users come to learn about and appreciate natural settings.
- Sustainability and responsible behaviours are important factors in realizing optimum environmental benefits while also accommodating recreation use. User awareness programs, communications, careful trail planning and design, and stewardship are key program elements that support trail environmental benefits and trail sustainability.
- The George Trails marketing mediums such as its website and social media will be important communication tools for land managers/owners. Through this they can make aware, educate, communicate change and do market research.
- Open cleared trails will help control fire risks and make access to areas easier.
- Professional signage, route markers and permits will have emergency numbers to aid evacuation and assistance.
- Permits systems will help control and manage trail use.
- Permits systems can provide an income to land managers.
- Trail systems can provide land managers with tourism and economic opportunities.
Key heritage benefits of organized trails
- Trails provide the visitor with first hand opportunities to understand, appreciate and enjoy key heritage sites in and area. Historical sites such as the Montagu Pass, Old Toll House and memorials in the Garden Route Botanical Gardens can be incorporate.
- Tourists are increasingly attracted to educational oriented experiences provided by cultural and historic sites.
- The history of human habitation along trails in the Garden Route stretches back hundreds of years. We have no doubt that a study of the George region’s history will reveal interesting information that can be incorporated in the trail network as part of its heritage tourism information and possible a heritage trail.
Key social benefits of organized trails
- The experience of walking, running and bicycling helps us connect people and places. Walkers move at slower speeds and have more time to perceive and comprehend the details of the environment and the community.
- Gathering places for trail users such as trail heads, trail cafes, club houses, restaurants or a trail office, creates a sense of community.
- Organised hikes, runs, cycling trips and events bring the community together.
- Important information is shared at these community gatherings.
Children and Nature
Trails provide important opportunities for children and their families to access, experience and learn about nature. Our failure to ensure that children have rich connections with nature has led to what Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and founder of the Children and Nature Network, terms Nature Deficit Disorder. Louv points out that a generation growing up with little or no experience in the natural world is exhibiting exploding rates of psychological and physical problems.
All too often, we prescribe new medications rather than fresh air. Yet nature can be even more powerful than pharmaceuticals in treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), clinical depression, obesity and other near epidemic diseases. The challenge to act resides in all of us. We need to find creative and engaging ways to capture the interest of children and their parents in the magic of the natural world. We need to toss these ideas out to communities, where they can help them grow and flourish.
It may only be a matter of time before land managers/owners introduce permits systems due to its many benefits and the fact that it is the norm at many places elsewhere in the country and the world. The George Trails project is facilitating the process between the land managers/owners and the public.
We suggested to land managers/owners that permits can be introduced but not to charge fees until trails are signaged and trail maintenance is taking place, in order to give users value for money. This will encourage future payment and participation.
Permits can be made available online and through ‘honesty boxes’ in the form of daily, weekly, monthly and annual permits and can be policed by volunteers, users and eventually officials (trail marshals) as the budget allows. It is however proven that most people using land that requires paid permit access, will pay to keep a clear conscious as ‘it is the right thing to do’ and provides value for money because of all the benefits that comes with a well-marked and promoted trail network.
Benefits of Permits
- Creates a measure of control for trail and land use.
- Leads to safer trails
- Communicates the rules and regulations of trail use.
- Communicates the rules and regulations of conservation.
- Builds a database of trail users that can be communicated too.
- Means of fund raising to pay for expenses for trail maintenance.
Environmental Impact of Mountain Biking
Extract from the article ‘Environmental Impacts of Mountain Biking: Science Review and Best Practices. By Jeff Marion and Jeremy Wimpey as posted on the IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association) website:
“An emerging body of knowledge on the environmental impact of mountain biking can help guide current management decisions. All of the existing scientific studies indicate that while mountain biking, like all forms of recreational activity, can result in measurable impacts to vegetation, soil, water resources, and wildlife, the environmental effects of well-managed mountain biking are minimal.
Furthermore, while the impact mechanics and forces may be different from foot traffic, mountain biking impacts are little different from hiking, the most common and traditional form of trail-based recreational activity.
Key observations about the environmental impacts of mountain biking:
Environmental degradation can be substantially avoided or minimized when trail users are restricted to designated formal trails. Many studies have shown that the most damage to plants and soils occur with initial traffic and that the per capita increase in further impact diminishes rapidly with increasing subsequent traffic. Many environmental impacts can be avoided and the rest are substantially minimized when traffic is restricted to a well-designed and managed trail. The best trail alignments avoid the habitats of rare flora and fauna and greatly minimize soil erosion, muddiness, and tread widening by focusing traffic on side-hill trail alignments with limited grades and frequent grade reversals. Even wildlife impacts are greatly minimized when visitors stay on trails; wildlife has a well-documented capacity to habituate to non-threatening recreational uses that occur in consistent places.
Trail design and management are much larger factors in environmental degradation than the type or amount of use. Many studies have demonstrated that poorly designed or located trails are the biggest cause of trail impacts. As evidence, consider that use factors (type, amount, and behaviour of trail visitors) are generally the same along the length of any given trail, yet there is often substantial variation in tread erosion, width, and muddiness. These impacts are primarily attributable to differences in grade and slope alignment angle, soil type and soil moisture, and type of tread construction, surfacing, and drainage. This suggests that a sustainable trail that is properly designed, constructed, and maintained can support lower-impact uses such as hiking and mountain biking with minimal maintenance or degradation.
The environmental degradation caused by mountain biking is generally equivalent or less than that caused by hiking, and both are substantially less impacting than horse or motorized activities. In the small number of studies that included direct comparisons of the environmental effects of different recreational activities, mountain biking was found to have an impact that is less than or comparable to hiking. For example, Marion and Olive (2006) reported less soil loss on mountain bike trails than on hiking trails, which in turn exhibited substantially less soil loss than did horse and ATV trails. Similarly, two wildlife studies reported no difference in wildlife disturbance between hikers and mountain bikers (Taylor & Knight 2003, Gander & Ingold 1997), while two other studies found that mountain bikers caused fewer disturbances (Papouchis and others. 2001, Spahr 1990).
Wilson and Seney (1994) found that horses made significantly more sediment available for erosion than hikers or mountain bikers, which were statistically similar to the undisturbed control. One final point to consider, however, is that mountain bikers, like horse and vehicle users, travel further than hikers due to their higher speed of travel. This means that their use on a per-unit time basis can affect more miles of trail or wildlife than hikers. However, an evaluation of aggregate impact would need to consider the total number of trail users, and hikers are far more numerous than mountain bikers.
Mountain Bike Management Implications
So what does this mean for mountain biking?
The existing body of research does not support the prohibition or restriction of mountain biking from a resource or environmental protection perspective. Existing impacts, which may be in evidence on many trails used by mountain bikers, are likely associated for the most part with poor trail designs or insufficient maintenance.
Managers should look first to correcting design-related deficiencies before considering restrictions on low-impact users. By enlisting the aid of all trail users through permanent volunteer trail maintenance efforts, they can improve trail conditions and allow for sustainable recreation.”
(Dr. Jeff Marion is a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey who studies visitor impacts and management in protected natural areas. Jeremy Wimpey is a doctoral candidate in the Park and Recreation Resource Management program at Virginia Tech)