It's been a year of change and progress at the Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre, a year in which we've all grown a little more and learnt new things along the way. Albert Einstein said, 'Life is like a bicycle: to keep your balance, you must keep moving.' So why don't you move towards Wakkerstroom in 2017? Click here to book your trip soon to avoid disappointment!
The Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre has had a busy year, from providing accommodation and running birding tours to managing the Wakkerstroom Working on Fire team. Let's not forget the maintenance of the centre too, almost a full-time job for the small staff based there. Looking back over the past 11 months, we are so grateful for the support we have received from bird clubs, local associations and tourists who have made use of our facilities and services.
The first quarter of 2016 brought about some changes, with the Grasslands Environmental Education Project unfortunately coming to an end. On the bright side, this meant that Kristi Garland was able to spend more time at the centre and in the local community. Kristi and Daphne Pyott spent many hours devising ways to market the centre's facilities. A database of past guests was created and news of events in Wakkerstroom sent out to them. We also ran accommodation specials during the winter months, which brought in more guests. Overall, this year has seen a marked increase in 'bums in beds'.
Kristi also spent time and energy on encouraging learning opportunities in the grassland and wetland this year by supporting World Wetlands Day and World Environment Day events in the area. On a broader district level she took part in the Gert Sibande Environmental Education Forum, at a provincial level she attended the Mpumalanga Annual Teachers Conference, and at a national level she implemented the Spring Alive Project. By submitting comments on the African Wildlife Clubs manual, she contributed to this BirdLife International project too. The success of all these events and projects relies on sustained partnerships with various organisations of which we are proud to be a part. 2017 can only bring greater education opportunities for local communities about our avian heritage!
Lucky Ngwenya, our resident bird guide, has spent much of this year conducting birding tours. The support he has received from tour operators and domestic and international tourists has been overwhelming. Special mention must also be made of the three freelance guides in the area, Norman Mngube, Sifiso and David Nkosi, who have flown not only their own flags high in the grasslands, but also the flag of BirdLife South Africa! We continue to receive from guests superb reports on all four of the guides, who are so in tune with the area that they find the specials and elusive species with ease and to the enjoyment of all. We have encouraged all the bird guides to start making use of BirdLasser to record their sightings – quite a jump in the use of technology from the pen and paper of the past!
The Wakkerstroom centre's link to the community has continued to strengthen this year through Kristi's involvement in the Wakkerstroom Natural Heritage Association (WNHA), Wakkerstroom Bird Club, Wakkerstroom Interest Group, Wakkerstroom Tourism Association and Wakkerstroom Protected Environment Management Committee. Although the Wakkerstroom area has not yet been declared a Protected Environment, all parties concerned continue to support the process. Having turned 25 this year, the WNHA brought a more focused outlook to the mission. The centre has also backed a new Ambassador Programme for local young people, which Kristi is helping to develop and roll out in the community, together with Vusi Sibiya, the local soccer team manager and the Type 2 crew leader from Working on Fire.
With reduced rainfall and high winds, the Working on Fire team experienced fewer safe burning days during the fire season. It assisted many of the Fire Protection Association's (FPA) members with the removal of alien vegetation and preparation of tracer belts (from January to April), the building of firebreaks (May to July), control of runaway fires (August and September) and block burns (October and November). Since April, the start of the 2016 financial year, the team has completed 214 hectares of fire belts, 8.6 hectares of prescribed burning, 6.5 hectares of fuel reduction and 24 fire-awareness activities in the local community. It made a particular effort this year to expand its reach and completed awareness activities in Dirkiesdorp, which falls just on the boundary of our FPA.
A real highlight this year was receiving our strike unit vehicle, which carries 13 firefighters and a driver, together with all their equipment and 1500 litres of water. The unit has made the team not only more mobile, but also more productive because a larger group of firefighters, along with all their tools of the trade, can be mobilised at once. We've also made good use of the team being based at the centre with regard to maintenance – it helps to have so many additional pairs of hands around!
Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre Manager & Working on Fire Base Manager