Upcoming repair works on Bukit Timah Nature Reserve's walking trails will be done "in a sensitive manner", said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blog post yesterday.
As announced in June, the reserve will be closed for six months from Sept 15 as the National Parks Board (NParks) carries out restoration work on its eroded slopes and trails.
Access will remain limited for a further 18 months. But the mountain biking trail around the periphery will remain open throughout.
Mr Khaw sought to allay worries about whether the walking trails "will still appear natural" afterwards.
Boardwalks will need to be installed in some areas to prevent further erosion, but they will be cantilevered to minimise contact with the ground.
The wooden planks used to construct them will also be "hand carried, piece by piece, into the narrow paths of the reserves".
Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum welcomed the efforts to minimise the impact of repairs, but added that ecology and conservation groups had not been too worried about this.
Rather, the community had supported the plans. "There was real concern that if erosion were to continue, it would impact the actual ecosystem." Biodiversity researcher David Bickford agreed. "Getting the measures in (place) will have an impact, but significantly less than if they weren't carried out in the first place."
Mr Khaw noted that the reserve, with 400,000 visitors each year, has "undergone natural wear and tear". Landslides on some slopes have made it hard for plants to flourish, while erosion of trails has exposed tree roots and affected trees' stability.
Repair works will be done in phases to minimise inconvenience.
First, NParks will stabilise the slope along the main tarmac road next to the visitor centre. This is expected to be completed within six months.
After next March, the main tarmac road leading to the summit will be reopened on weekends.
But it will be closed on weekdays, for the use of vehicles carrying construction equipment. "All this planning is with the safety of visitors in mind," said Mr Khaw.
The visitor centre will also be upgraded.
For Dr Lum, the bigger worry comes after the repairs are finished. "Will we, as a community, take care of the reserve?"
He hopes that visitors themselves will minimise their impact, such as by keeping to the trails.
This article was published on Aug 12 in The Straits Times.
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