The Banhoek Conservancy – a community project
20 April 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking podcast. As you know by now, if you’ve been downloading, you are going to hear all about mountain biking and the people, the places, the trails, the races and the personalities involved in this great sport. From a sporting/racing perspective and from a recreational trails perspective.
We’re going to be talking trails today to someone who has been instrumental in bringing some incredible trails to a beautiful part of the world near Stellenbosch, between Stellenbosch and Franschoek. The Banhoek Conservancy, Rose Jordaan from the Bartinney Estate. Rose, thanks for talking to us. Firstly, the Banhoek Conservancy, just give us the background as to what it is and what it’s made up of.
What’s on offer at Banhoek
Rose Jordaan: Gerald, a couple of years ago like-minded land owners decided to get together and put heads together and decide what can we do to, as a community, kind of share what we have. We are all, well, many of us are passionate mountain bikers. So we kind of asked who wanted to be members, who wanted to come and join.
We had an amazing response and we have now got 95% of the valley involved in the Banhoek Conservancy. We have social upliftment as well as environment upliftment projects that we are committed to. What we did three years ago, we started building trails. We have for three years been building hiking and mountain biking trails throughout the conservancy. We are probably close on about 40km of single track now.
GDK: That’s phenomenal, the mountain bikers will now know what Sky Fall is all about, if they haven’t ridden it, they’ve certainly heard about it. They’ve seen it on television at the Cape Epic, the riders got to ride that particular trail. That’s an extraordinary piece of trail, where did that germinate?
RJ: I’m meant to be a farmer, but I’m actually a gardener. So for me, a gardener and a mountain biker and a valley, I started just building what I wanted to ride. I got to plant all my amazing fynbos between the vines and it just, it grew and grew and got longer and longer.
Building trails for everyone
Eventually 2km of Sky Fall drops out of the Banhoek Conservancy and the most important thing for us was that I wanted the children to be able to ride the trails. I built the berms, really beautiful, gentle berms that the kids could really feel safe riding. To learn about how to ride, do a mountain bike trail properly.
GDK: You’ve obviously got a bit of a crew working on that, guys who have learnt about trail building?
RJ: You know, my team on the farm, when it’s off season helped and we started it. Then we had some really amazing trail builders that have helped us through the years, especially because they know the technical stuff. To bring professional trail builders in really does make a difference and then it’s the upkeep. If you build a trail properly, you don’t have the problems, because upkeep can be very expensive.
GDK: It’s not the most accessible piece of trail. Sky Fall, to get to the top, you’ve got to work really hard to get there. Is it open, I know it runs through your land, do you have people coming through there any time of day?
RJ: What we’re trying to do and we’re trying to get the like-minded land owners to agree and especially guys who don’t really know about trails. Mountain bikers and hikers and trail runners are actually good people. So we’re working hard to get people to unlock their land so that the conservancy can start a permit system.
Which we’re hoping to get up and running in the next couple of months. So that people who are using the trails know that they legally can be there. It feels more comfortable and people are happy to pay because they know how expensive it is to keep those trails up, in the condition that you want to ride them.
Getting the information out there
GDK: A lot of events have come through there of late; the origins of trails, as Cape Epic and Liberty Cape Winelands Encounter, which is where we are now. So that sort of thing brings awareness to the event and awareness to the conservancy. But some people just ride through them and they’re actually not sure where they are and where they’re riding. That knowledge and awareness is something you’re working on?
RJ: We’re working on that really hard and as soon as the trails are open, all our signage will go up. It will give explanations of emergency situation numbers, problems, if you spot anything untoward. It would be great if you could report it. Just really to make people aware of where they are and on private land, please respect us.
I think we’re really going to put it in big letters, please be friendly. Say hello to everyone because it’s a good chance he’s a farmer and he owns that land and he’s allowing you to ride on it. So, the idea is really that we will be sign posting things so that you can see where you’re riding. You know how to get there and you get different options to opt in or opt out, if you have to climb a mountain.
GDK: Which you do in this part of the world. The Stellenbosch Trail Fund has been quite active in raising funds to create a trail network. Not just for mountain bikers, but for trail runs, you’re quite involved with that as well?
RJ: It’s a really great marriage between Stellenbosch Trail Fund and Banhoek Conservancy. Where we have like-minded ideas and we touch each other, we bounder each other. So the idea is that we can actually easily access each other’s property.
The Stellenbosch Trail Fund is probably more involved in Stellenbosch itself, especially on a level, an entry level, as well as a higher level trail network. There’s a big Eerste River clean-up project and on the Bartinney to Bartinney Trail run that is on the 8th of May and is sponsored by Old Mutual. We are going to be showcasing some of the most awesome of Stellenbosch Trail Funds latest trail.
Many people don’t know them yet. You will start in the middle of Stellenbosch, go through beautiful trails up the Eerste River, then over some brand new trails on Botmaskop and drop down into Sky Fall, to land at the cellar for a fantastic glass of wine.
How did you get into MTB riding?
GDK: Absolutely, that’s incredible, it’s mountain biking, but where a mountain biker can go, so can a trail runner go. You’re a mountain biker, where did that come from?
RJ: I was working very hard and I had very little children and I needed to get away.
RJ: Escape, it was the one place they couldn’t follow me. I think it also comes from the most beautiful surroundings we have. To be able to access them, you have to get on a bike, there is no real other way. Just that escape into the mountains is quite something, it’s something very special.
GDK: You live in a very special part of the world and it’s a great privilege to be able to ride in this part of the world. But you also like to go and ride events elsewhere. You travel to ride?
RJ: I think, especially if you’re working really hard and you have a job and you have a family and all of your responsibilities, you have to plan your routes and where you’re going quite carefully. The privilege of where we live in the southern part of Africa, we have incredible routes everything.
Incredible races, from Namibia to Lesotho, to really beautiful places to go and visit. I definitely do try and get to a new race every year. I’m blown away, every single year, by the amazing people you find and the incredible organisational abilities of people in remote places, to get this together.
GDK: Does your husband Michael ride?
RJ: He does, he’s back on a bike after being very lazy for three months, he started two days ago and he suffered.
GDK: There are a lot of people who ride with their husbands and wives and some who don’t, do you ride together?
RJ: We don’t, very have very different competitive spirits, let’s put it that way!
GDK: Are you a competitive spirit?
RJ: Yes! I am, so we have very different riding ambitions, let’s put it that way.
The importance of maintenance
GDK: You’ve got Sky Fall and then a little bit further on, on the trail, we go up the Banhoek Valley, across the river and we come up, Nik-Naks, that’s what it’s called. So it all takes time and it takes effort and as you’ve mentioned, maintenance. Epic went through there, would it need to be revisited to maintained and so on?
RJ: Before every race and obviously it depends on how many riders are riding the race and also it depends on the expertise of the riders. Because novice riders really do mess up trails, they break in switch backs. It’s not their fault, they’re still learning.
But we do have to go through a lot of maintenance pre-race and maintenance post-race as well, just to keep those trails in tip-top shape and to stop any erosion. Because that’s what we don’t want to happen. We’re in pristine fynbos and we don’t want to cause any negative effect.
GDK: The trails are incredible and we’re always looking for new trails, but is there a point where you say, that’s enough now, we don’t need to do anymore, we made our footprint here and it’s gentle enough?
RJ: As a conservancy, it is our concern. It’s something we consider always, but it’s quite interesting because fynbos is such a thick bush area that we find, we’re allowing access paths for animals. But we don’t want to mess around too much.
So we’re very careful we don’t go into sensitive areas, we try and keep on animal walking paths and we also don’t mess with perhaps a breeding area, we’ll always skirt around it. Work a little bit hard to climb over it, but we’re very aware of that.
Keeping the conservancy stable
GDK: Your gardening skills, that Sky Fall, a lot of indigenous, it looks all indigenous there which obviously prevents erosion and makes it stable?
RJ: Well, this was a huge clean-up operation. It was a massive alien invasive tree operation that we embarked on six years ago. This is one of the things the conservancy is also doing, is to clear the alien species that have been invading the fynbos. The project was six years ago.
We started clearing massive Blue Gum and Pine plantations, it took two years to settle. Then I started an indigenous nursery to start re-establishing the slopes that had nothing on them at all. Everything on Sky Fall, all that fynbos that looks like it’s been there forever has all been planted, to bring it back to its natural state.
GDK: Rose, you’re doing an amazing job there, I know those who are listening who have ridden it will certainly appreciate it and if you want to come out and ride it, in a few months’ time we reckon permits?
RJ: I would love to say two months’ time, give us eight weeks. We’ll have to do some wining and dining of some of the old stalwart farmers who don’t know much about mountain biking.
GDK: Persuasion, there’s nothing you can’t do over a glass of wine. Rose Jordaan, from Bartinney, I suppose from a mountain bikers perspective, from Sky Fall, doing a great job at the Banhoek Conservancy. Get out there and ride it, wherever you are. If you’re in the Western Cape area, go and ride those trails, they really are fantastic. This has been another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking, thanks for downloading, until next time, cheers.