THE Nukakamma Canoe Trail on the Sundays River was the dream of a maverick of a man, who not only co-founded this popular trail on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth in 1998, but put years of effort into literally putting it on the map.
And now, thanks to the sheer determination of his wife, 71-year-old Dee Richards, the trail – and Bob Richards’ legacy with it – lives on.
When watersports lover and conservationist Bob died suddenly just over two years ago, it was a huge shock not only to the Cannonville community where he had spent his retirement years, but to Dee, who had helped bring his trail dream to life.
Having also lost her brother a week before, Dee bravely kept up administration of the trail. With the help of friends and family, she continued to handle bookings, driving out to the launch site near the new Sundays River bridge which is still under construction to orientate the paddlers and then lugging their food and equipment along a bumpy farm road to the overnight hut so everything would be ready for them by the time they arrived by canoe.
But another blow would come in December last year, when the farm where the hut had been situated for more than 10 years was sold.
“The new owner did not want the hut on her land and so I had two options – pack it all in or find a new site and move the hut,” said Dee. It seemed an impossible task, not least because accessible river-frontage is not easy to come by on the Sundays. But she began negotiating with other farmers with riverfront land and eventually found a consortium of owners happy to help. She also roped in her neighbours and others members of the Cannonville and Colchester community who had stood by her during the difficult months following Bob’s death, including local couple Nick and Cazzie Neil-Boss, and Sundays River Ratepayers’ Association chairman Colin Tunstead. PPC Cement also provided assistance for the move and by June the hut was finally in its new spot about 3km closer to Cannonville – and ironically just 400m from its original site at Kleinmaakvlakte.
And to christen the new site, the first group of paddlers who did the trail led by Port Elizabeth businessman Stuart Ahlschlager back in June 1998 once again took to the water almost exactly 14 years later.
The trail is now properly up and running again and Dee intends to “continue enabling school and church groups, hiking clubs, charity fund-raisers and of course nature lovers to enjoy the pristine beauty of the Sundays River”.
“The trail has been instrumental in the inception of the annual Trash Bash, which took over from the International Beach Cleanup when vehicles were banned from the beaches,” she said. This year’s Trash Bash is taking place today, with volunteers from the village going out by boat and cleaning the banks while others clean the streets.
“Paddlers have been able to alert nature conservation officers to the presence of gill nets in the river; to date more than 200 of these illegal nets have been taken out of the river.
“Farmers, too, have been alerted to livestock trapped in the mud.”