Hike, cycle, love – meet the proud people who breathed life back into Ida’s Valley in Stellenbosch

Hike, cycle, love – meet the proud people who breathed life back into Ida’s Valley in Stellenbosch
Ida’s Valley Community Trails in Stellenbosch finds nature areas in the local community to clean up and make them more accessible for recreational use. (Photo: Joel Ontong)

This nonprofit organisation has been internationally recognised for its efforts to uplift local residents through various projects, starting with cleaning up and rehabilitating neglected nature areas.

‘I firmly believe that we did not inherit this land from our forefathers; we are borrowing it from our children. We have a duty to look after what we have so that the next generation can live from it,” says Eon Hendrikse (28), co-founder of Ida’s Valley Community Trails.

The organisation is based in Ida’s Valley, Stellenbosch and seeks to use the natural resources in the area for recreational purposes. Hendrikse believes that a community’s natural resources, such as dams, rivers and nature areas, can contribute to self-sustainability.

Initiating various projects in pursuit of uplifting residents, it usually starts with cleaning up parts of Ida’s Valley and making locals aware of the natural resources that can be used for recreation. These spaces need to be cleaned, rehabilitated, maintained and then promoted to the community, says Hendrikse. The organisation also wants to create job opportunities for residents through its projects.

An idea born from Covid restrictions

Ida’s Valley Community Trails was founded in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. “At level 3 [of lockdown], the parks were closed. [Ida’s Valley Nature Area] was the only place I could come to enjoy myself outside. I really enjoy nature. I get a lot of joy and peace from it,” Hendrikse explains.

“Then in Covid it triggered me – why don’t we start cleaning this place… and we use this area as a recreational space for our community? Then the second thing that triggered me [was] how nature areas and open spaces are treated in other areas.”

Ida's Valley

Etienne Basson is one of the co-founders of Ida’s Valley Community Trails, along with Sylvin Thomas and Eon Hendrikse. (Photo: Joel Ontong)

He is referring to more popular nature areas in Stellenbosch, such as Coetzenburg and Jonkershoek, which are accessible and safe. Hendrikse wanted the nature areas in his own community to be the same, so he approached co-founders Sylvin Thomas and Etienne Basson to join him in making Ida’s Valley a “beautiful place”.

Read in Daily Maverick:Kogelberg reserve shows how protecting our biospheres is a sound investment

“The three of us basically got together after Eon made a Facebook post about looking at the Ida’s Valley nature area and making it safe for people to use for a recreational space,” says Basson. “We started to volunteer in Ida’s Valley, just picking up waste.” Then the nonprofit organisation was formalised.

Hendrikse calls Ida’s Valley a community that was “previously dispossessed, currently disadvantaged” owing to historical forced removals. The organisation sought to create something its residents could be proud of, he adds – something that can unite people from different backgrounds, enhancing economic, tourism, employment, educational and agricultural opportunities.

Ida's Valley

Ida’s Valley was officially founded in 1920 on the northeastern side of Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. It was declared a group area for coloured people after the 1950s. (Photo: Joel Ontong)


The organisation’s work has been internationally recognised. It received an award from the World Economic Forum for Top Innovators 2022 and also exhibited at the Dubai 2020 Expo, says Hendrikse.

But his biggest reward is to see how Ida’s Valley Community Trails has facilitated behavioural change towards nature areas. He believes the organisation has increased local interest in outdoor recreation through its projects.

“The perception of Ida’s Valley nature areas has changed,” he says.

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Another point of pride for Hendrikse is how three individuals have been helped to gain enough experience to secure jobs elsewhere. They were employed part-time and received training through Ida’s Valley Community Trails. The skills they acquired helped them find work with other businesses and institutions, he says.

“Ida’s Valley Community Trails taught us self-confidence, cleanliness, discipline and communication skills,” says Devino Meyer, one of the three former part-time workers, who now works at Spar Tops. “We got training opportunities where we learnt about permaculture, sign language and life skills.”

Meyer believes that Ida’s Valley Community Trails provides dignity and job opportunities to the community.

Eon Hendrikse. is one of the co-founders of Ida’s Valley Community Trails. (Photo: Joel Ontong)

Ida's Valley

Eon Hendrikse is unhappy that the sign at one of the entrances to the Ida’s Valley Nature Area is unreadable and wants the Stellenbosch Municipality to replace it. (Photo: Joel Ontong)

Current projects

Ida’s Valley Community Trails is busy with various projects. One of them is cleaning up the part of the Krom River running through Ida’s Valley, which is being done in conjunction with the Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve. The clean-up also involves getting rid of alien plants and replacing them with indigenous trees.

Another area in Ida’s Valley that Hendrikse wants to improve is one of the nature area’s entrances, which he believes has been neglected by the Stellenbosch Municipality.

Read in Daily Maverick:Wonders of the Little Karoo — the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

“If your entrance does not look right, then you will never attract people.”

Hendrikse also raises concerns about the conditions in which the security guard who works at the entrance operates – sometimes in intense heat and with few facilities.

To attract more tourists and visits to Ida’s Valley, the entrance to the nature area needed a “facelift”.

Municipality spokesperson Stuart Grobbelaar said in response to DM168 queries: “Mr Eon Hendrikse has had numerous engagements with the municipality on various different platforms and avenues over the years. We encourage him to attend the upcoming IDP [integrated development planning] public participation meetings in his area, where he can lodge his complaints and make suggestions.”

Leaving the streets of Ida’s Valley and entering the nature area, Hendrikse says: “This beauty you will find nowhere else. This is priceless… We encourage walking, hiking, jogging, cycling, especially for the local community.”

Ida's Valley

Eon Hendrikse looks towards the Krom River that runs through the Ida’s Valley Nature Area, which his organisation plans to clean up. (Photo: Joel Ontong)

Attracting more visitors to Ida’s Valley extended beyond tourists to students. “You don’t just want to limit students to stay in [the main part of Stellenbosch]. You want them to come out to communities like ours.

“I don’t think we are given the opportunity to promote ourselves,” he adds.

Read in Daily Maverick:The call of the mild – of mice, men and tiny claws in the Tygerberg Nature Reserve

Another area of focus for the organisation is the Ida’s Valley community market, which residents sometimes refer to as a “white elephant” because it is rarely used.

Ida’s Valley Community Trails wants to change that and give the market a practical purpose. All these changes will hopefully attract more visitors and give a boost to local businesses, adds Hendrikse.

Man of his people

Other than Ida’s Valley Community Trails, Hendrikse is the founder of the Clay Foundation, which has a back-to-school initiative. This is to ensure that children in Ida’s Valley schools have the necessary supplies for their classes. With school having started, the foundation had teachers send it reports of needed supplies. Through donations from locals and other organisations like Gift of the Givers, it was able to provide them.

Hendrikse spends most of his energy trying to find ways to improve his community. His sincere love for Ida’s Valley is evident in the way he interacts with other residents. He knows them all by name and everyone  knows his name.

He stresses the importance of authenticity in his work: “It’s my life, it’s not that I pretend. It comes naturally.” DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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