By CrossRiverWatch Admin
Seventeen years ago, in the strive to support conservation and promote eco-tourism in Cross River State , the government engaged the services of the Green Heart Conservation Company of Canada to construct a Canopy Walkway in the Afi Mountain Forest.
Considered at the time of its construction in 2006 as the longest Canopy walkway in West Africa, the Afi Forest canopy walkway located in Buanchor, Boki local Government Area, came only after the first one which was earlier built in the Kakum National Park in Cape Coast, Ghana.
The first to be made of first class aluminum steel, and measuring four hundred (4000) meters from entrance to exit, the Afi Forest Canopy Walkway, which is said to have cost the State government around three hundred thousand US dollars ($300,000), is made up of 10 platforms consisting of 3 metal towers and 7 trees. The highest platform is about 25.5 meters high.
Situated on the fringes of the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, the Canopy Walkway is also adjacent the Pandrillus Drill Ranch. It is on record that Pandrillus runs an ambitious project rated by renowned Conservation authorities as the world’s most successful attempt at captive Drill rehabilitation and breeding.
In fact, this strategic location gives the Afi Forest Canopy Walkway the prime status of an ultimate eco-tourism destination in the State in particular, and the country at large.
To foreign visitors and even locals going to the place for the first time, the Walkway provides an exciting, spectacular, panoramic clear view of the rain forest that registers everlasting memories in one.
There is no doubt that the Afi Forest itself remains a Researcher’s dream destination, any day. Classified as one of the oldest Rainforests in the world, and grouped among the twenty five (25) United Nations’ Biodiversity hotspots, the Afi Forest is rich in various unique species of both fauna and flora.
Among these are the Cross River Gorilla found only in Cross River State and Southern Cameroun. Also found there is special specie of Chimpanzees very unique from other species in the West African sub-region.
To give Tourists to the Walkway the needed comfort, a Visitors Reception Centre was built. Consisting of a Bar, Shopping Room, First Aid Room and four (4) Toilets, the Reception Centre also has a Booking Desk to raise revenue from Tourists.
Since its inception, the Afi Forest Canopy Walkway has attracted visitors from far and wide. A look through the Visitors Book shows that tourists have come in from all the continents of the world to savor the excitement provided by walking on the walkway, while enjoying the natural tranquility provided by the serenity of the last tinge of one of the largest Equatorial Rain Forest in the world.
These visitors raised the tourism profile of Cross River State, boosted her economy and as well impacted positively on the lives of residents of the local community.
In early 2012 for instance, a young German couple who sold all they had in Munich to purchase a specially-fitted utility vehicle just for a trip to experience the Afi Forest Canopy Walkway, donated a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica to Community High School, Buanchor, with a promise to make further contributions to the development of the school.
Also, while on a visit to the Walkway sometime ago, a Swedish couple wrote off the medical bills of villagers whose health challenges were handled at the village Government Clinic at the time they were around.
The existence of the Afi Forest canopy Walkway has exposed the authorities of many tertiary institutions at home and abroad to the research potentials of the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary.
As result of this, students of Forestry, Botany, Wildlife, and Tourism, to mention a few disciplines, from within and outside the country, have been made to spend months studying out there in the forest, in partial fulfillments of their requirements for the award of diploma and degree certificates.
Unfortunately, since the devastating landslide which wrecked monumental disaster on Buanchor community and her environs on 14 July 2012, the fortunes of the Afi Forest Canopy Walkway have been adversely affected.
The landslide destroyed four of the tree towers – two at the entrance and two at the exit, thus reducing the length of the Walkway by a hundred (100) meters.
The Entry staircase has had to be removed and mounted at Tower four to enable tourists access the remaining three hundred (300) meters of the walkway.
The left over parts of the walkway are suspending on dead trees. The fear is that if the metals are not removed now, the entire Canopy walkway could be further damaged in the event of these dead trees coming down.
Also, of the fourteen (14) staff originally engaged by government at the inception of the project, seven (7) of them attached to the Tourism Bureau have abandoned the job having not been paid salaries for the upwards of the past twenty four (24) months.
Incidentally, these are the vital staff with technical know-how on the maintenance of the Walkway, having worked closely with the Green Heart Conservation Company throughout the construction phase of the walkway. They were subsequently trained physically and intellectually equipped, and have been doing routine maintenance of the installation.
Of grave concern also is the Visitors Reception centre which now looks despondent and dilapidated. It is obvious that it has been left to rot due to the absence of staff to run the place.
It is beyond doubt that the State must have borrowed heavily to invest in this project, and is now repaying from her lean resources. So, at this time when new avenues are being sought to diversify the economy in view of the current recession, there will be no gainsaying the fact that, it will be of great economic benefit if the walkway is reactivated.
It has thus become imperative to to give serious thought to the reconstruction of the damaged parts of the walkway, and put the entire place back in order.
Fortunately, with the on-going work on the Wula-Olum-Buanchor road project which is expected to be completed soon, the challenge of accessibility which can be a key impediment to Tourism, a trip to the walkway will become smoother.
This is therefore calling on the appropriate authorities, especially the State Tourism Bureau, Ministries of Information, Culture, Climate Change, Works and all other critical stakeholders to do all that is necessary to reactivate the Afi Forest Canopy Walkway for the promotion of eco-tourism in Cross River State.
And the time to do the needful is now!
@Nandi P Bette
No76 Obudu Road
4 Corners, Ikom
Cross River State
28th January 2017
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