Residents and visitors to Kigali now have a place where they can enjoy a nature walk and a breath of fresh air, after the opening of the Nyandungu eco-tourism and recreational park to the public.
The park is nestled between the Kigali special economic zone and the Kigali International Airport along the highway to Eastern province.
What used to be a degraded wetland has been turned into an educational park in the heart of the city, thanks to Rwf 4.5 billion ($4.6million) from the Rwanda Green Fund (Fonerwa) with support from the UK and the Italian governments.
The park sits on 121.7 hectares, including 70 hectares of wetland and 50 hectares of forest, and is home to over 100 bird species and more than 62 local plant species.
The government signed an agreement with QA Venue Solutions — which also managed BK Arena, to run the eco-park, creating 4,000 green jobs.
The project has restored critical habitats, including a native fig forest, the wetland and rehabilitated streams and ponds to alleviate floods and reed-beds.
The restoration also saw the planting of 17,000 trees of 55 indigenous species, a medicinal garden, a Pope’s Garden, five catchment ponds, three recreation ponds, an information centre, a restaurant and 10 kilometres of walkways and bike lanes. The park has been opened to the public free of charge, seven days a week from 6am to 6:30pm.
Sights and sounds
I visited the Nyandungu eco-tourism and recreational park on one of the hottest days this month. A few minutes into my walk, encircled by overgrown and neatly managed bamboo trees and other shrubs, I had cooled off.
The tarmacked walkways dotted with wooden signs and beautifully carved cement benches, while listening to the chirping and sounds of the birds in this sanctuary make for the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
I see a young woman carrying a backpack, earphones plugged, visibly enjoying her day. This is the kind of place where people can come to meditate, declutter and relax.
Couples sit on benches at various spots, talking and looking into each other's eyes. On another side, children play under the watchful eyes of their parents not far away.
Besides the picnic site, cycling and walking lanes, the eco-park has a restaurant that looks like a stone cottage which offers various foods and drinks.
Some people work on their laptops, and I make a mental note that I could follow suit and maybe finish writing my poetry book.