Mon, 26 Jun 2000

Hikers, campers destroying Gede and Pangrango peaks

JAKARTA (JP): The Gede Pangrango National Park near Bogor is suffering increasing environmental degradation due to visiting hikers and campers, many of whom profess to be nature lovers, environmental experts said.

The park is home to the 3,000 feet peaks of Mount Gede and Mount Pangrango.

"Some visitors just come for pleasure, without trying to be one with nature," said resource and environmental economist Mubariq Ahmad in a recent interview.

Many visitors show little awareness about the importance of environmental conservation, often vandalizing trees and throwing their litter around, Mubariq said.

The two mountains have seen more visitors lately; as many as 5,000 people attempt to scale them during national holidays.

"This indicates a surge of interest in hiking and trekking, but it has not been followed by the proper behavior to conserve the national parks," he said.

The number of visitors often exceeds the environmental capacity of the national park, he said, noting that hikers sometimes cleared tracks of land to open new paths or campsites, he said.

The litter left behind by hikers could damage the ecology, he added.

Soeryo Adiwibowo, head of the environmental research center at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, said that Mount Gede and Pangrango were favorite weekend escapes for Jakarta youths but were also a crucial groundwater supply for Bogor and Jakarta.

The growing popularity of hiking and trekking in the park could reduce the ability of the two mountains to function as water catchment areas, he said.

Mount Gede and Pangrango are about 100 km southwest kilometers of the capital or a two-hour drive. The main access road to the park is through the resort town of Cipanas just after Puncak.

The park boasts tropical and subtropical forests, hot springs and gardens as well as the two peaks. Gede and Pangrango are both active volcanoes that periodically emit smoke. The park management has provided two campsites at Kandang Batu and Kandang Badak.

Threats to the park's ecology also come from inhabitants living nearby, in spite of the establishment of a buffer zone between them and the park.

Many villagers still enter the national park to gather wood or even to clear land to farm, a staffer at the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) said.

Environmentalist Rohaji said the national park management lacked personnel and funds to effectively monitor all the activities in the area.

A symposium to find a solution to the problems facing the park will be held on Saturday, looking in particular at ways of balancing people's appetite for hiking and trekking with the needs of the environment.

The Communication Forum to Protect Gede-Pangrango, which is organizing the symposium, proposes organized visits for school children to increase their awareness of the need to conserve the environment.

Last month, the group invited 60 children between eight and 14-years-old on an excursion, known as the Kelana program, to the Ciliwung River, which flows down to Jakarta. The children camped at Cibodas and were involved in scientific simulations.

"We believe that through these activities, we can start taking action to conserve the Gede Pangrango National Park," Elyta B. Daniel Gultom, committee chairwoman of the symposium and the Kelana program, said. (07)