Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Help Save the Swartberg Pass

ALL Prince Alberters who have driven over our most famous National Monument and World Heritage Site, the Swartberg Pass, since the recent floods will have been shocked by the damage caused to the road and the unique and unparalleled dry stone walls. The rain appears to have been at its strongest in three places: just beyond Malva– draai, from the Blikstasie to the top of the zigzags beyond Droë Waterval, and on the sections approaching and leaving Teeberg.

Deep furrows, some almost the height of a donkey, have been emptied of stones and rocks. The walls have been washed away in several places. Gorges have been created, some already eroding the road, where water rushed down into the valley below. Bain’s original bedrock is showing in long stretches of road.

It is clear that the maintenance work of recent years has not been sensitive enough to Bain’s construction of drainage channels under the road and the road camber. Many of the drainage outlets had been filled in with soil and rock, the camber reversed with the consequence that large bodies of water tried to escape by running down the road. Soil pushed against the carefully constructed walls during maintenance also helped to direct the flows down the road. The road humps, constructed in recent years, also appear to have been inadvisable as some of the breaches of the walls took place immediately above these large obstacles. Clearly, future cloudbursts could result in similar damage to other places where these humps have been made.

What does this mean for Prince Albert? The fact is that the Pass is usually a dependable (and shorter) route to our main shopping and support areas. Time-consuming re-construction will hamper and prevent access during repairs (the washed-away bridge at the Prince Albert entrance to the Pass took two years to repair). But, the Pass is the main tourist attraction the town has to offer. Everyone visiting Prince Albert, whether they be motor-bikers, mountain bike cyclists, day visitors, celebrities, international or South African tourists want to see the Pass or at least walk in the gorge below. They admire the wonder of Bain’s engineering, imagine where they themselves would have laid it out, enthuse over the beautiful walls and, to varying degrees, fear the deep drops to the valleys below.

The Prince Albert Tourism Bureau, mindful of the impact of tourism on the local economy, has written to Cape Nature, and the National and Provincial Roads Departments. Those legally responsible for the upkeep of the Pass have been requested to inform Tourism of their plans. An offer has been made to host a meeting of all interested, accountable and responsible parties to discuss concerns and approaches to saving the Pass. The possibility of a national campaign has been mooted.

We call on all Prince Alberters, visitors, and those who share our concerns to let us have their views and proposals. The Tourism Office will maintain a book of comments, proposals, and photographs. We would appreciate all contributions.

Bokkie Botha,
Chair, Prince Albert Tourism Bureau

No comments: