While the big field of paddlers tackles the popular two-day N3TC Drak Challenge Canoe Marathon on 23 and 24 January, they will be supporting a ramped up campaign with the race backers to try and rid the Mzimkulu Valley of alien invader plant species, and, in particular, the water-intensive Black Wattle.
Every paddler that enters the N3TC Drak makes a contribution towards the Wattle Clearing Fund run by the organisers from the Canyon Canoe Club, which has waged a seven year war against the infestation of Black Wattle trees along the sections of the Mzimkulu Valley used for the race.
Every year the club has used the cash accumulated to tackle specific sections of the Black Wattle infestation, gradually eliminating the trees from the sections of the Mzimkulu River. To date over R350 000 collected from Drak paddlers has been spent on Black Wattle eradication.
The race sponsors N3 Toll Concessions have responded to the paddlers personal donations to the fight against the Black Wattle by adding a substantial contribution to the fund that will dramatically escalate the scale of the Black Wattle clearing operation.
Black Wattle (Acacia Mearnsii) is an alien invader that has a mean reputation for the impact it has on the water table. It can consume as much as 800 litres of water per tree per day, and they account for a massive 7% of the total rainfall runoff in South Africa annually.
Since its inception in 1994 paddlers on the first stage have noted the spreading of the Black Wattle infestation upstream of Black Murray rapid, to the point that the dense forest of Wattle in the Valley of a Thousand Rapids has been named the “Black Forest”.
In a full river the uMzimkhulu spills into these forests, creating a new danger for the paddlers to deal with. The biggest danger however comes from Black Wattle trees falling into the river, either during the dry winter months or in heavy rainfall.
These trees block the river and create a deadly strainer that can pin a paddler against the trunk or branches, with potentially lethal consequences.
In 2009 the Canyon Kayak Club, that runs the N3TC Drak Challenge, recognised that something drastic had to be done, to safeguard the thousands of paddlers that use the river year round, and contribute to the farming community’s drive to rid the farmlands of these alien invaders that sponge off the fragile water table.
In that year the club asked participants of the N3TC Drak Challenge to make a voluntary donation with their race entry to contribute towards a fund that the club had set up to start confronting the Black Wattle problem head-on.
The response was overwhelming, and in Autumn 2009 the club had the resources to start eradicating Wattle from the banks of the Mzimkulu. They started with the Underberg Gorge starting close to the town of Underberg and ending close to the Glenhaven Camp.
As the local contractors hired to do the job worked through the Gorge, the impact was striking. Rapids like Tokolosh and Big Dipper opened up, and inside the year the natural vegetation started to return to the river banks.
Once the Underberg Gorge was completed, the attention shifted to the Valley of a Thousand Rapids, higher up the Mzimkhulu, starting at Wild Dog Estate around the Black Murray rapid and gradually working upstream into the “Black Forest”.
It is a slow and costly exercise to fell the trees with chainsaws and ensure that all the branches and debris is removed from the valley, and to ensure that there is no regrowth of the Black Wattle.
Every year paddlers taking part in the race chip in voluntary donations to the Wattle Clearing Fund, and a percentage of the race proceeds each year are added to fund the rolling Black Wattle eradication project.
Since the alliance between the N3 Toll Concession and the Drak Challenge deepened to the status of full title sponsors in 2013, N3TC has wholeheartedly endorsed the Black Wattle clearing programme, and this year they have stepped up their involvement from a Corporate Social Responsibility investment perspective to add further muscle to the wattle battle being waged in the Valley of a Thousand Rapids.
The N3TC Drak Challenge takes place on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 January 2016.