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Family trail opens at Karura

Saturday May 23 2009

By JOHN FOX

My father used to say that golf is a good walk spoilt. Well, last Saturday, a good walk was spoilt for me by a lot of speeches. Where does it come from, this love (or tolerance) Kenyans have for speechifying?

You can blame so many things on the British colonialists — things such as church services, court rituals, and table manners — but not speechifying. Brits have no predilection for long or numerous speeches. It must be something to do with the oral tradition.

Whatever the reason, whenever there is a programme to be launched or a facility to be opened, it seems impossible to let just one person do the job of saying the appreciative things and mentioning the deserving people. Everyone of any connection wants to get in on the act.

Well, I seem to be embarking on a longish speech about the curse of long or numerous speeches.

What I really want to be telling you about is last Saturday’s opening of the Family Trail that has been established in the Karura Forest.

The leaflet produced by the Friends of Karura Forest asks a good question: “Where in the greater Nairobi area can you find a 50-foot waterfall, the Mau Mau caves, many kilometres of nature trails, forest antelopes, a marshland perfect for bird-watching, a bamboo jungle, three rivers to explore, a camping site, a historical church hidden deep in a clearing in the wood, many pleasant picnic sites?”

But I guess that, for many of us, Karura Forest is better known for the attack on Wangari Maathai back in January 1999, when she and her supporters attempted to plant trees on a portion of the forest claimed by a private developer.

In Nairobi’s affluent northern suburbs, wedged between Muthaiga and Gigiri, no doubt it was a very tempting site for real estate developers. But a grab was risky if it was not in the best interests of powerful and connected residents of Muthaiga — and it was also under the watchful eyes of the world headquarters of the UN Environmental Protection Agency in Gigiri.

Forest amenity

Now, the residents of Muthaiga, well supported by the diplomatic community and UN agencies, have partnered with the Kenya Forest Service in working out a collaborative forest management structure along similar lines to that earlier established for the other excellent forest amenity within Nairobi – the Arboretum.

The aims of the Friends of Karura Forest are to protect the forest; provide access and employment for people living around it; restore the forest to its natural state; and provide a variety of “ecosystem services” – in what is Nairobi’s largest green area. (If you would like to know more about the FKF, the email is [email protected])

The Family Trail, which was formally opened on Saturday by Dr Noah Wekesa, the minister for forests and wildlife, is about four kilometres long, located between the entrances to the forest at the Old Kiambu Road and the Limuru Road opposite the Belgian Embassy.

There are a few trails you can follow.

Whichever you choose, as well as the indigenous trees, you might also see bushbucks, Sykes monkeys or ground squirrels – and you will certainly see some of the over 400 species of birds. And whether you are walking, jogging or cycling, you will be protected by Forest Service guards.

So there we were last Saturday, a few hundred of us, wearing our shoes for the walk and our anoraks for the rain. But the speeches were so many – and one or two of them so long – that I didn’t have the time to explore.

But I will be back on a quieter occasion to find that waterfall, that little church and those caves.

John Fox is Managing Director of IntermediaNCG. Email: [email protected]

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