A BIODIVERSITY pond to teach students about nature, walls painted with murals of the old Kampong Bugis and bins in the shape of frogs or bottles will soon spring up at Kallang Riverside Park.
Founder and chairman of Waterways Watch Society (WWS) Eugene Heng has dreamt up an ecovillage on a 400m stretch of the park to ignite a green spark in park users.
The environmental group is the first non-governmental organisation to sign an agreement with the National Parks Board (NParks) to organise and run activities in a park.
Mr Heng, 65, a retired bank executive, said he mooted the idea of the society taking on more responsibility for the area about five years ago.
WWS, which has 380 volunteers, including two full-timers, has been patrolling and picking up litter there for the past 16 years. It also does clean-up and environmental activities in other places.
Its latest project is in line with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's announcement last Saturday that the Government will work with partners who want to do more for the environment.
NParks director of parks Kartini Omar said with WWS's experience in developing programmes and outreach, the partnership will provide more recreational opportunities for all to enjoy.
NParks has previously joined hands with other environmental NGOs such as WildSingapore and the Toddycats on activities like guided nature walks, bird watching and nature photography.
Mr Heng said he plans to build a biodiversity pond, which will help students learn more about plants and wildlife. In addition, his society hopes to team up with institutes of higher learning to raise awareness of environmental issues such as littering.
"We may also hold exhibitions on recycling, repaint walls or redesign some of the rubbish bins to make them more appealing," he added.
"The park is very quiet on weekdays, so we hope to enhance it so that people will come here to enjoy nature."
Experts called the collaboration a win-win situation.
Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development and Environment Lee Bee Wah noted: "Non-government groups can sometimes be better attuned to the public's needs, and can... be free from red tape (compared with) a government agency."
NParks puts up the infrastructure and lays out policies while WWS does the ground work of engaging people, she added.
NParks will continue to own and manage the park, but WWS can develop and maintain other facilities in the village, such as a portable stage for water sports events and signboards to support its programmes, subject to NParks' approval.
People who want to organise public events in the village will also have to go through WWS first, although NParks has the final say.
Said Mr Heng: "Over the years, we have seen more volunteers who are passionate and have the relevant expertise. I believe we can tap on that."
But he acknowledged that more sponsorships and full-time staff will be needed.
Mr Leong Kwok Peng, the Nature Society (Singapore) vice-president, added that the partnership is a big step forward for civil society here.
"It breaks new ground... Hopefully more such partnerships can be done in nature conservation and heritage," he said.
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