TMNP head talks fires, crime and pines

TMNP manager Lesley-Ann Meyer brings new energy to the park within a city.

Lesley-Ann Meyer is not taking credit for Cape Point recently celebrating its one-millionth visitor this year and Tokai upper reopening three weeks earlier than scheduled.

The new Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) manager says it’s all thanks to her team.

Since Ms Meyer took over as park manager in July, she has been on a series of site visits to the 221km² park, absorbing information and observing.

She has also attended meetings with various stakeholders.

Speaking from her office at Tokai Manor House, Ms Meyer says there’s a lot going on in her mind.

“It’s abuzz, like a database, wanting to reach the right people, from those interested in plants to others wanting to go cycling.”

Ms Meyer lives in the City Bowl and says she’s still not used to living within a city. Previously area manager of the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, she would wake to birdsong, which is now replaced with car hooters and traffic hum.

Ms Meyer says the challenges of the two parks are also very different. Tsitsikamma straddles two provinces. Communities live in and around that park but are much smaller.

In Cape Town, she’s dealing with a city and where everyone feels they own the mountain, when actually it’s for the world to enjoy.

Originally from Uitenhage, in the Eastern Cape, Ms Meyer studied tourism at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). After starting off in the private sector, she joined SANParks in 2002 in the coastal section of Addo Elephant Park, at Colchester, before moving to the main section.

She then moved to the Mountain Zebra National Park, at Cradock. Her experience in coastal and terrestrial areas will help her at TMNP, which faces illegal poaching and declining penguin populations in its marine protected area and baboon issues on the mountain.

Whatever she does, Ms Meyer will have to abide by SANParks’ policies and guidelines.

She is cognisant of the work that went into producing the TMNP Environmental Management Plan, in collaboration with stakeholders, such as advocacy group Amarider and the Pedal Power Association.

Ms Meyer is contemplating reforming the park forum but not along the same lines. She says it did not have adequate input before and would need to cover more interest and user groups.

She quickly adds that she’s not rushing into anything.

It is clear from our interview that she is juggling conservation as well as stakeholders, the tourism sector, access, service, recreational users, administration and properties all while maintaining revenue streams.

“The way I manage is to see (the park) as a business, to make decisions of how and why I would invest in it,” she says.

Ms Meyer says she is open to debating issues and making decisions the park can stand by in the future.

“People are often resistant to change, so it’s important to make them part of the decision,” she says.

Not put off by the ghost reputed to haunt the manor house, she presently works in various sections of the park, not only to be close to the coalface but also because the building is undergoing renovations.

She says the tender process has gone through for the new headquarters in Tokai Park, and if all goes well, building will commence in February.

The new purpose-built headquarters are to be built on TMNP land off the approach road to the manor house.

“It’s a good move having everyone together and will be better for meetings and information sharing,” she says.

Regarding the Hoerikwaggo Trail, she says the veldfire of March 2015 provided the opportunity to review what was planned to be the flagship hiking trail of Africa.

Ms Meyer says they have questioned whether they have enough resources to manage it and it might be time to outsource the trail and make it a commercial operation.

Another thorny issue with TMNP users is that of crime, to which Ms Meyer responds that there have been several arrests recently, and it is all hands on deck for the festive season.

“Crime spills over with criminals robbing in the city and hiding on the mountain, and vice versa. We need the public to be super active and report suspicious behaviour and people living on the mountain, while not being heroes,” she says.

And regarding pine plantations, Ms Meyer says the felling of trees in lower Tokai is before the court and TMNP hopes to have an outcome in the first quarter of the year.