I was delighted to discover parts of Howick that I never knew existed today, thanks to Pia Sanchez and Chris Ntuli who have spent the past 2 weekends voluntarily brush-cutting a trail all the way along the alien species-invaded Symmonds Lane stream to connect with Beacon Hill. Starting at Thabo's antiques, 13 keen 'Howickans' made their way up the path observing masses of aliens plant species, few indigenous ones and hearing anecdotal stories about the old oak tree on the way, as well as some of the history around the attempts to clear up this unbeknown and precious asset that has been neglected for so many years. As we made our way across one of the few remaining stands of grassland, we were delighted by the quaint and encouraging signage that Pia had made, guiding us along to a few inviting rest stops. Strategically placed logs in the wooded eucalyptus made the perfect regrouping points. We all agreed that this was a wonderful picnic spot and visualised what could become of this little stream in a few years when people started caring and contributing from all of Howick. We were impressed by the Lake's who live next to the stream and have adopted the river frontage. Imagine if all property owners along the stream took the same approach. Crossing over handmade footbridges (also made by Pia) I relished at sharing this trail with my mountain-biking friends, a superb run of single-track right through the centre of town! And certainly the more walkers and cyclists that use it, will help to maintain and keep the trail from becoming overgrown.
However one of the most significant realisations for me was that the very source of the Symmonds Lane stream was only a few hundred metres further up the trail, hidden in a wetland. Essentially, we have pure untapped spring water right at our doorsteps and most of the town doesn't even know it, and yet within a few hundred metres before entering the Umgeni at the Forgotton Falls as it is polluted and undrinkable - unthinkable! A steep climb to the exit at the top of Drew Ave, we were pleased to find lots of bushbuck dung, and also found it hard not to be distracted by Pia's coffee and tea signage which would have led us to the Country Lane Guesthouse & Coffee shop.
More than 20 years ago residents of Howick had envisioned the idea of rehabilitating and making the Symmonds Lane stream a utilised and cared for, public open space. Initially the concept was sparked by Mike Exelby in his proposal for the formation of the Howick Falls Nature Conservancy and in his "Recommended Developments" around the Falls, he had spoken about incorporating a trail from the Howick Falls up to Beacon Hill along the stream.
Others like Alan Turner had served on the Transitional Local Council in the 90s and was active trying to get the TLC on board to clean up the degraded stream. Ironically it was this very Council that was responsible for the laying out of the sewage pipes in the stream bed! WESSA had also developed a brochure about the trail proposal.
Since then not much has happened until DUCT became active in assisting the municipality in clearing alien invasives over the last few years. However unfortunately due to limited funding this hasn't been enough although it has renewed an interest from a few community-minded people like Liz Taylor, Pam & Ross Haynes, Scotty Burge, Pia Sanchez, Mike Farley, Robin Denny, Clive Bromilow and Hannes Zöllner who have been the latest champions of the cause, purely under their own devices.
Please go and discover this gem of Howick that we all need to look after. Take a walk and see it for yourself – you will be surprised and inspired! Please contact Pam Haynes 083 4569202, should you want to join the Symmonds lane conservancy or contribute in anyway.
Article kindly submitted by Bridget Ringdahl.