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HIDDEN TREASURES OF THE GOLD COAST

Business24

?A LOOK AT GHANA?S UNTAPPED RESOURCES

?I haven?t been everywhere, but it?s on my list?, Susan Sontag.

Whenever tourism attractions in the Eastern are mentioned, two places often come to mind; the Aburi Botanical Gardens and Boti Waterfalls. Well, now all that has changed.

As part of efforts of the CSIR-Plant Genetic Resources Research Institute to raise funds and to diversify the attraction at its arboretum, management of the institute engaged a Ghanaian private investor to build the second canopy walkway in Ghana, after that of the Kakum National Park in the Central Region of Ghana.

It took the local engineers one year to build the magnificent walkway using materials such as wood, safety net, aluminum ladder, nails, bolts and knots among others. The walkway is Two Hundred and Eighty (280) meters long, forty feet (40ft) high and has five (5) bridges.

Other features of the edifice are the six platforms and fences where tourist can rest whiles on tour of the walkway. The forty (40) acres arboretum is home to in-situ and ex-situ plant species with over 600 timber trees, 110 species of birds and 300 species of butterflies.

This week, Hidden Treasures brings you the latest, and second, canopy walk way in Ghana (and perhaps Africa) which is making waves in the tourism sector. Read on.

Though the Bunso Arboretum Ecotourism Centre, located on the Bunso-Koforidua road in the East Akyem District, has been in existence for a long time now, very little had been known of the place, perhaps until now.

The Bunso Arboretum is situated about 165km from Ghana?s capital city Accra and about 3km from the Bonsu junction from the Accra-Kumasi road. It is about 30 minutes? drive from the Eastern Regional capital, Koforidua, and is sited close to the Seed Production Unit of the Ghana Cocoa Board.

Until recently, the centre was managed by the Plant Genetic Resources Research Institute (PGRRI) of the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and has been the habitat of some over 300 butterfly species, 600 tropical trees and over 110 birds, some of which are rare and could only be found at this forest.

Since early 2014, the Bunso Centre has had an added attraction, through the investment of a private individual, Kenneth Akuffo Asare, who saw the potential of the place and decided to extend his expertise and add value to the facility.

Mr Akuffo Asare, who was involved with the Kakum canopy walkway in the Central Region, got the approval from the management of the centre to erect what is now the second forest reserve canopy walkway in the country. Ghana thus becomes, perhaps the only country in Africa to have two of such facilities.

The 320-metre long walkway has five bridges and six platforms where tourists can make stopovers to explore and soak in the breath-taking fauna and flora. The centre can also serve as venue for corporate games or outings where after a hardworking week, one can escape to the cool and natural environment at the centre to relax and have fun.

There are lots of experienced tour guides at the facility to conduct visitors around and give visitors the fascinating history of the place.

Background

The 40-acre forest reserve that hosts the aboretum belongs to the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Council who leased it to a mining firm in the early twentieth century for surface mining before been given to another company known as African Products Department for rubber and cocoa plantations in 1917.

After the company left, two British bought and built a guest house in 1935. The guesthouse is currently serving as the official residence for the Vice Chancellor of the University College of Agriculture and Environmental Studies; an institution established by the Okyehene, Amoatia Ofori Opanin II.

In 1946, the facility was acquired by the Plant Genetic Resource and Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) which has been managing it ever since.

The forest reserve has some of the rare tree species including Garcinia Kola, known locally as Twepea, reputed for its health benefits.

According to one of the reports, ?Garcinia kola is used in many tropical countries to fight infectious diseases and also known to possess anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiviral properties.?

Other tropical tree species found at the centre include Okure, mostly used for dugout canoes and Alpha and Omega trees used for the local sponge (sapowie).

Features

The 280-metre long walkway is suspended 40 feet off the ground with five bridges. It is within one of the country?s lesser known tourism sites in the Eastern Region ? The Bunso Arboretum. 

It has six platforms where tourists can make stopovers to explore and soak in the breath-taking fauna and flora.

It is the second forest reserve in Ghana to host a canopy walkway after the Kakum National Park, which was built by Conservation International in 1995, to provide tourism income for forest conservation.

The Kakum National Park is the only park in Africa which has a canopy walkway that stretches 350 metres (1,150 ft) long and connects seven treetops, providing access to the forest?s vast fauna and flora species.  

Started almost a century ago as a plant research reserve, the Bunso Arboretum, covering a total forest area of 16.5 hectares, has since 2002 become an eco-tourism spot but often overlooked because it had not been properly promoted. 

Yet, it boasts of 110 bird species and not less than 300 species each of butterflies and timber, some of which are difficult to find in most of the country?s forest reserves that are threatened by illegal logging and illegal small scale mining activities (galamsey) by the locals.  

Currently, Arboretum falls under the auspices of Ghana?s Ecotourism Department of the Plant Genetic Resources Research Institute of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

The commissioning of the latest canopy walkway forms part of a larger plan to position Arboretum as a leader in ecotourism in Ghana by providing a one-stop-shop tourism facility. This walkway is expected to attract unprecedented number of tourists ? both local and foreign. 

Aside the cutting-edge experience, the Bunso Arboretum offers great price packages compared to the Kakum National Park in the Central Region. With as low as GHC50 ($17), one can have a whole 24-hours for camping, holding retreats and wedding receptions or organising other recreational activities at Arboretum, which has serene receptive facilities. 

According to the developer, future development plans for the place includes the building of two tree houses with the capacity to house 20 people per room to make it possible for camping or longer stays at the facility.

Although relatively new, Mr Akuffo Asare said patronage of the Aboretum has been very encouraging. 

So far, the facility has recorded over 5000 visitors from within and outside the region with patrons from Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Greater Accra and the Volta Region, including foreigners, visiting the place regularly, particularly on weekends and public holidays.

Real Tourist Accounts

I just went to the Bunso Arboretum, where a canopy walk was completed in early May 2014. It has 5 bridges (to the 7 at Kakum National Park), but they have plans for 4 more. Cost is 30 cedis for foreigners to do the canopy walk, which is on top of the 5 cedi charge for the nature walk. Guides were great, both for nature walk and canopy walk. They only sell drinks, and the guest house has not been functioning for some time.

How to Get There

The arboretum is located in the Eastern Region of Ghana in the East ? Akyem municipality and lies on latitude 06? 15? North and longitude 00. It lies just 120 kilometres from the national capital Accra, 150 km from Ghana?s second capital, Kumasi, and 3 km from the Bunso-Junction on the Accra-Kumasi highway. 

At Bunso junction on the main Accra-Kumasi highway, near Linda D?or Rest Stop, one needs to turn right towards Koforidua.

With just about 3km drive, the arboretum can be located on the right hand side of the road.

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