Stellenbosch Trail Fund: Let’s build on Richard’s legacy

Ernst Gouws remembers Dr Richard de Villiers, founder of the Stellenbosch Trail Fund, and urges the people of Stellenbosch to continue the important work he began.

Pictures supplied

Dr Richard de Villiers passed away in 2022 at the young age of 54. He was fit, healthy and happy at home and at work. His sudden passing came as a shock to his family, his friends and the broader cycling community in Stellenbosch, not to mention the medical community, as Richard was a respected radiologist who specialised in sports injuries.

When Richard joined the Stellenbosch Trail Fund (STF) in 2014, he employed a few colleagues to help him clean up a small section of the Eerste River around the corner from his house. After removing rubbish and alien vegetation along the river, they planted a few trees. But you can’t just decide to roll up your sleeves and start working on public property. In fact, it’s sometimes so difficult to get the necessary approval that people give up trying.

Luckily for Stellenbosch, however, Richard agreed with an expression used by Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” With passion, patience and perseverance, he succeeded in establishing the River Stewardship Programme, in collaboration with other NGOs such as Wildlands SA. It was therefore a fitting send-off when a group of community members commemorated Richard’s passing by planting a tree next to the Eerste River in Koloniesland in his honour.

Since that memorable day, several people living in the town have followed suit and sponsored trees to be planted to celebrate the lives of their own loved ones. Residents are encouraged to contact the STF if they would like to support this programme. The STF is also responsible for the maintenance of all the mountain bike trails on municipal land in and around the town, including Botmaskop, Coetzenburg, G-Spot and Paradyskloof.

Botmaskop is currently a specific focus area for the STF, which has recently completed the construction of a new MTB trail. With the expert help of Bennet Nel (a legendary trail builder), parts of the 1997 UCI MTB World Cup trail have been restored and Botmaskop now has a wonderful new trail for everyone to enjoy. To further honour Richard’s legacy, the STF has named the new trail ‘The Doctor’.

Visitors to Botmaskop will also enjoy the extensive new range of directional signage that the STF recently added to help them find the local trails as well as the routes to Idas Valley and Banhoek. Moreover, plans are under way to implement a neighbourhood watch programme and additional security in and around Botmaskop.

Not only did Richard believe in protecting the environment and helping people to enjoy the great outdoors, but he was also passionate about job creation, skills development and building communities. While members of the STF’s management team volunteer their time for free, the organisation’s trail-building team consists of six full-time employees and is funded by donations. The STF is committed to building on Richard’s legacy and expanding the role it is playing. This will require increased financial support from individuals and businesses.

Good to know

To make a donation, visit www.stellenboschtrailfund.co.za for more information.