Getting Tokai Park ready for reopening

Berta van Rooyen and Johan Potgieter.

The upper slopes of Tokai Park could be open by the end of the year, while the Tokai Arboretum will remain off limits until contractors can clear unsafe trees.

Jannie du Plessis, the recently appointed manager of the central section of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) said the arboretum was subject to an “ongoing process and it currently has no timeline”.

However, the rest of upper Tokai “should be opened by the end of this year for hikers, granted all the safety requirements have been met”.

In March 2015, veld fires devastated large parts of the Cape Peninsula. Today, with strict security in place, the only way to get into the upper section of Tokai Park is if you are a mountain biker (weekends only), bird, baboon, or forester. Or you could join one of the monthly hacks.

Nine months after the fires, the Friends of Tokai Park (FoTP) held their first hack in the area (“Hackers target alien vegetation”, Bulletin December 17, 2015). At that time, you could be excused for thinking the verdant upper slopes were lush with indigenous fynbos, instead there was a dense wall of alien vegetation. Mr Du Plessis said more than a century of commercial timber planting and harvesting was to blame for the alien infestation in Tokai and it might take as many years to fully rehabilitate the area.

Since that first hack, attended by about 30 residents, environmentalists, scientists and SANParks honorary rangers, there have been monthly hacks.

“We identified five patches that had the best fynbos and concentrated on clearing alien invasives from these,” said FoTP chairman Dr Tony Rebelo.

SANParks honorary rangers and FoTP have also spread about 1 000 silver tree (leucadendron argenteum) seeds collected two months after the fires.

TMNP spokesperson Merle Collins said early maps of the Tokai Arboretum show silver tree forests on the slopes above Tokai Manor.

However, with the establishment of pines plantations they were replaced with pine stands. They are now an endangered species.

The silver tree seedlings are now knee high to a baboon and growing strongly, along with various other proteas. The trees grow at about 300mm to 500mm a year, so in five years they should reach 3m – a shimmering forest of silver, similar to those on Lion’s Head and above Kirstenbosch.

Trampling up the granite outcrop strewn slope, beneath Elephant Eye, Dr Rebelo said regeneration was superb although the plants had looked sick before the rain.

Dr Rebelo is disappointed that not many bulbs have surfaced. “But give them time – we are in a drought cycle and perhaps they need more rain,” he said.

Contractors are clearing the last of the plantation gums, so the area is dangerous for public use, but Dr Rebelo hopes the work will be finished by Christmas.

After many years of neglect, Tokai Arboretum will need much work to remove the dead trees. “But we’re working hard for 2018 opening of the park. We’ve been kept out for too long now. We welcome others to join us in preparing the area,” said Dr Rebelo.

Ms Collins said a number of assessments had taken place by tree experts from Kirstenbosch and the Department of Forestry and quotations and funding to address the dangerous burnt trees in the arboretum needed to be finalised before work could start.

“Listers (tearoom) will open when the arboretum is safe and once a tender process has been followed in terms of outsourcing the facility to a private operator, potentially as an interpretive centre,” said Ms Collins.