SINGAPORE's most loved rainforest will, for the first time, be getting a much-needed reprieve from the hordes of people who traipse through it each day.
Come Sept 15, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve will close its doors to the public for six months. This is the first phase of a two-year plan to repair the 22-year-old reserve, which is showing signs of damage in some areas.
After this,visitors can enter the reserve, but access will be limited for the next 18 months or so. It will be open only on weekends, and people will be allowed only on the Main Road stretching from the Visitor Centre to the summit of Bukit Timah Hill.
The National Parks Board (NParks) announced these plans yesterday, adding that the arrangements were made for the safety of visitors during ongoing works. The phased approach was also being taken to "minimise inconvenience to visitors", it said.
Works are expected to be completed by the end of 2016.
Home to more than 40 per cent of Singapore's native flora and fauna, the 163ha nature reserve is one of the nation's most popular nature spots, drawing more than 400,000 visitors last year.
"We seek the understanding of the public for the need to limit access... so extensive enhancements can be carried out to stabilise slopes, repair trails, upgrade the Visitor Centre and restore the forest environment," said Dr Leong Chee Chiew, commissioner of parks and recreation and deputy chief executive of NParks.
The restoration comes after about five years of observations and discussions with external consultants, NParks said. It will be done in three main areas:
- Three stretches of weakened slopes bordering pathways will be stabilised to prevent landslides, by piling concrete or wooden beams into the pathway to help prevent soil movement.
- Amenities such as an exhibition hall for outreach and educational activities will be upgraded. More washrooms will be built.
- About 4.5km of trails damaged by constant visitor footfall will be restored. A 1.3km stretch of this will be replaced by boardwalks - elevated platforms that prevent visitors from trampling on forest litter and top soil.
Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore), a group NParks consulted, said the works would boost the forest ecosystem's long-term health.
"Decreased erosion from slope and trail restoration, better protection of tree roots from boardwalks, and limiting future soil compaction will help tree survival and regeneration," he said.
NParks said a tender for the works will be called this month.
Teacher Balasupramaniam Krishna, 68, a frequent visitor, strongly supports the renovation works. "I think it's very important that we do not compromise the safety of the park," he said.
"Within two years, we will have a very different heritage, a national park that everyone can be even more proud of."