The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
Several of South Africa's provincial Nature Reserves fully deserve National Park status, and a prime example is that of Mpumalanga's Blyde River Canyon.
Its scenery is unsurpassed, its vegetation both varied and lush and the rich selection of birdlife includes a breeding colony of the rare bald ibis. Just over halfway down, the swift-flowing Blyde River is joined by the Ohrigstad River from the west.
Here engineers have built an unobtrusive dam wall in a bottleneck below the confluence. The result is the Blyde Dam. The Blyde Dam is the heart of the reserve, but its nerve centre is the nature conservation team's headquarters at Bourke's Luck.
Wildlife in the Blyde River Canyon area is as varied as the habitats. There are mountain reedbuck on the escarpment, dassies on the canyon walls, hippo and crocodile in the Blyde Dam, and impala, kudu, blue wildebeest, waterbuck and zebra on the Lowveld plain near the canyon's mouth.
Technical studies are underway in the Blyde Canyon and Mariepskop mountain area, with the aim of transforming the area into a national park. The Blyde Canyon is part of a provincial nature reserve, while Mariepskop is state forest. Merging the two into one proposed National Park will help protect an important water catchment area for the Lowveld and the Olifants River. It will also help preserve a unique kind of montane vegetation, similar to the Cape fynbos.
The planting of exotic trees for commercial timber production is being phased out, not only for environmental but also economic reasons. It is hoped that conservation and tourism will become the main activity in the area. The proposed Blyde River Canyon National Park is likely to be managed by the Mpumalanga Parks Board. The area has also been proposed as a World Heritage Site because of its diversity and special geology.