PG Bison and Eco-Ed take hands to renovate 141-year old hotel in a forest

PG Bison and Eco-Ed take hands to renovate 141-year old hotel in a forest

One of the oldest surviving buildings on the Garden Route has been restored to its former glory thanks to generous donations by PG Bison and the owners of Eco-Ed, a local business that uses the facility to run educational wilderness workshops for kids.

The renovations on the ‘Old Coach House’ between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay consisted of extensive repairs due to water damage, carpentry and re-plastering work, as well as painting.

The local historical society has also acknowledged the efforts to renovate the building and will soon place a plaque at its entrance signifying its status as a heritage building, along with an Old Mill further down the old travellers’ road, said Ms Debbie Stanley, who co-owns Eco-Ed with Ms Harriet Thesen, descendent of one of Knysna’s first settler families.

Eco-Ed leases the property from PG Bison, South Africa’s leading diversified timber company and a major employer in the area, to run educational workshops for children and eco-tours.

“We do a lot of pro bono work in local communities, but also receive groups from all over the country. Even international tour groups visit us to be introduced to the local forest fauna and flora,” explains Stanley, a biology and science teacher by training.

“We help them discover the amazing natural heritage of the Garden Route from this building, which has seen so much over the past century.”

Watching over the ‘poort’

In the 1870’s Knysna had only 25 settler dwellings with a total population of 200. This rocketed to over 1 000 by 1880.

The route through the forest was used by the indigenous Khoi population as well as settlers and was an ideal place for local renegades to ambush Dutch settlers fleeing frontier violence not long before foundations for the inn were laid.

The land was first purchased in 1848 by Sarah Rex, descendant of the famous George Rex that a nearby town was named after.  It was sold to the Bertelsen Family in 1875.

As the local population and traffic through the ‘poort’ increased, the Bertelsens saw the need for lodgings on the forest route connecting Knysna and Plett, and the ‘Wayside Inn’ came to be.

“The oxwagon trail ran right past the inn, making it very convenient stop for travellers to stay over,” explains Stanley.

Today it stands as a vanguard watching over the route travelled by rebels, anxious colonists, indigenous tribes and – most probably – forest elephants.PG Bison and Eco-Ed take hands to renovate 141-year old hotel in a forestThe hotel after renovation

A responsibility to preserve

Mr Davey Carelse, HR manager at PG Bison in Knysna, yesterday said the company is fully aware of its responsibility to care for the large tracts of land in its care.

“We own the plantations, but along with it comes large sections of indigenous forest, historical sites and buildings, as well as places where communities have lived on company land for generations.

“Our concern is not just for this building. We have been involved in a variety of initiatives to preserve what has been entrusted to us.”

He says these efforts include cleaning cemeteries in forest-based communities, renovating or building facilities for schools, a housing subsidy scheme and a very successful learnership programme to train young people as foresters.

From a wreck to a training centre

Stanley says she has been operating the environmental education centre from the Coach house for the past sixteen years. W van Reenen offered me the venue to run my education programmes.

Over the past 16 years, the elements have taken their toll, and it was in need of urgent renovation and a ‘facelift’.

She and Harriet ( ECO-ED ) personally contributed significantly to the renovations, while PG Bison donated funds towards the materials.

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