Scene Four: Desire Lines Tour with Martin

Desire lines are informal foot paths created by frequent use. After walking around a small section of the desire lines by MGV and on one side of the Black River, we felt that it would be beneficial to see more of the lines and paths in the Oude Molen Eco Village area and across the river. Our walking tour was based on what was accessible by foot from the villages.

Cast of Characters
Martin, a resident of MGV and a leader in the Green Light Project’s Gardening Club, led us on the tour of the desire lines. He shared the ecological history of the area and his memories as we walked along the Black River.

Our team was looking forward to this tour with Martin as one-on-one time to ask him questions and talk a little more about the river.  The following are some questions we hoped to answer:

  • Do people in MGV and OMEV use the river at all?  For what?
  • Are the desire lines on the Oude Molen side more or less prominent than MGV?
  • Who is typically down by the paths near the river?
  • How do the desire lines connect around the river back to MGV and Oude Molen?
  • What is the state of pollution for the river? Was it always this way?
  • What do the water hyacinths look like?
  • Where do people cross the M5?

Martin guiding the Pathway team along the Black River

Our team met Martin at his house in MGV to walk with him along the desire lines behind Oude Molen and hear what he knew about them and how he used them. When we arrived outside Martin’s fence, he told us about the tree in his front yard that blooms with moonshine flowers, serves as home to four chameleons and his two birds. On the way to Oude Molen, we stopped by the barbed wire fence surrounding the prison’s ward for the criminally insane. This was a second barbed wire fence that was added around the perimeter of the institution. Martin asked us to peak between the buildings to see the inmates in the ward and told us this land was used as a morgue for the people in the psychiatric institute where Oude Molen is now located. We then left MGV and walked through Oude Molen to the horse stables. We walked along a dirt path that led through the horse stables that let out to an open field in front of the M5 highway. Martin explained that this field was the wetlands of the Black River, which used to reach all the way to Raapenberg Road before the river was canalised. There were some areas we could see where there were little ponds of water. Martin told us there used to be many species of flowers and birds that once lived in these wetlands but most had left this area. There were a lot of purple flowered plants all around us which we suspected might be water hyacinths, an invasive plant that originated from South America. We were unsure because the flowers were not located in the water but instead in the seemingly dry soil as well. Right out of the stable gates, the dirt path continued to both the right towards MGV and the left towards the Nashua Business Park. These desire lines in the dirt show the paths people usually walk to and from Oude Molen. We started to walk towards the Nashua Business Park and saw a group of workers from Altitude Workforce Solutions hacking this purple flowered plant down and raking it into piles. Large parts of the field, closer to the water, were cleared while large sections also reminded untouched. When we asked them what plant they were destroying, they answered they were taking down the “alien plant.”

We then continued along the pathway to the barbed wire fence before the highway, through which Martin proceeded to cross a small gap to the side of the M5 highway. Hesitantly, we followed him through the gap in the fence. We all hoped he would not try to cross the highway, which he did not, and instead we walked along the highway, which warranted us some honks by passing-by traffic. He told us about various things people would do on the other side of the highway, such as pick fruit from the Valkenberg Hospital gardens. He told us the hospital had grown and made most of its own food for its patients. We then reached the point where the river went under the highway. The river banks were polluted with all sorts of garbage, including but not limited to plastic and glass bottles, broken televisions, two computer monitors and luggage. The river waters appeared almost black yet there were still many birds swimming in the river.

We then continued under the bridge from Oude Molen over both the M5 and the river. Martin told us, again, that the bridge should have allowed pedestrian traffic over it but the guards would not let anyone pass without a permit. We then walked through tall grass from the highway to the river’s edge. Martin recounted the times he, as a child, with his friends would make rafts and float in the river. He said he wouldn’t go in the river now, in its current state. We then continued around the river’s bend to Maitland Garden Village. Martin told us how on one side of the dirt path we followed, closer to the river, was “lover’s cove,” which was now covered in water hyacinth and garbage, and the other was a dump where, as a kid, him and his friends would take a makeshift sled and slide down the path. We came full circle at Martin’s house and then walked to Oude Molen to confirm our Monday meeting with both Martin and Jonno for 10h00.

Reflection and Learning
Our tour with Martin was very helpful for us to understand the paths and routes that local travel upon on a daily basis. We were apprehensive about walking along the highway, where the car zoomed by and didn’t seem to notice us walking, yet Martin showed no sign of fear.  This gave us some insight into what MGV and Oude Molen dwellers must do to travel along the river. We did not even cross the M5 as many of them do and it is hard to imagine circumstances where this would be a safe endeavor.

Martin was very friendly and added in personal stories as we walked along the river to entertain us and tell us about the fun things that he or other villagers used to do. His explanations of our surrounding helped us better visualise the layout of the land years ago and prior to the reconstruction of the M5. His interest made the experience more than just the walking tour that we anticipated.

From the tour, we are also better able to appreciate the hassle that residents face when trying to cross the river, since the footbridge isn’t accessible anymore. By walking around as local residents do, we saw why the paths connect the way they do and how people use them. When we saw workers cleaning up the water hyacinth, we also realised just how invasive that plant is to the area and the extent to which it’s spread. This gave us insight into the presence that the river has on the surrounding communities and by learning about it though the tour with Martin, we have a better idea of how it fits in with the project moving forward.

Future plans:

  • Meet with Martin and Jonno on Monday to discuss gardening strategies.
  • Work on business strategies with respect to gardening.
  • Map the area around the river to draft a possible route of the pathway.