Two Room for the River Projects in the Netherlands
The Room for the River program came into being after the Betuwe region and a number of other places in the Netherlands were almost flooded in the mid-1990s. The central idea was to prevent future flooding, not by the usual dyke reinforcements, but by digging new river channels and redesigning the floodplains.
Also nature and recreation were supposed to be given new opportunities in these developments. Have those good intentions been implemented? To check that out, I visited two Room for the River projects this summer: Noordwaard near Werkendam and IJsseldelta near Kampen.
One could consider Noordwaard as an new extension to the Biesbosch national park. But in fact the area has always been part of the Biesbosch; it was reclaimed in the 1960s and has now been restored to its original state.
(interactive map: zoom in or click on the icons for more information)
Bus and boat
The starting point of our 12.4-kilometer hiking route, restaurant De Waterman in Werkendam, is somewhat hard to reach by public transport. On weekdays there is an occasional minibus service by Arriva; during the weekend the ferry from Gorinchem (and a few kilometres extra hiking) is probably the best option. Fortunately my traveling companion I. has a car so I didn’t have to look into that any further.
The nice thing about Noordwaard is that you can actually walk into the area, well, after you have reached Werkendam, that is. Large parts of the Biesbosch are only accessible by boat, but fortunately Rijkswaterstaat (the Dutch public works service) has built a large number of sturdy concrete bridges when they reconstructed the old creeks.
Unfortunately, the planners focussed mainly on bicyclists rather than hikers. Most of our route was on cycle paths; on this weekday it was relatively quiet, but on a sunny saturday or sunday as a hiker you won’t be happy with the hordes of cyclists pushing you off on the road.
Summer is a good time for a visit because Noordwaard was in bloom. Purple loosestrife and sorrel flourished and together with other wildflowers made for an almost psychedelic color palette. And all this in a landscape with some sparse signs of human activity such as windmills, farms on mounds and the aforementioned bridges.
We found catering at two strategic moments in the 12.4 kilometer route. I already mentioned the start / finish of our circular route. And at about two-thirds of the hike is the Selevia farm. It is less picturesque than the name suggests; in fact, it is primarily a large horse riding facility, but it has a nice terrace where swallows fly to and from their nest cavities in the eaves. A good place for a pit stop.
Summarizing: the Noordwaard is an area of great natural beauty where water management, nature and recreation work together really well.
The IJsseldelta project is much easier to reach by public transport because the new flood channel, the Reevediep, flows just a few hundred meters south of Kampen-Zuid railway station.
This new channel is seven kilometers long, connects the IJssel river with the Flevoland lakes and is already becoming quite popular with pleasure craft. Just like in Noordwaard, we see a vast landscape with sturdy bridges. Along the channel there are colorful flower fields through which one can still recognize some of the old allotment structure. It makes the agricultural areas on the other side of the dike, with farms and meadows, suddenly look a bit dull.
Also along Reevediep there are mainly bicycle paths. As a hiker you have the opportunity to walk on the grass boulders at the top of the dike. Cyclists avoid those, because cycling on them is not pleasant. The disadvantage is that walking on them is no fun either.
Benches and catering
Another point for improvement that I would like to give: add a few benches. During the entire 17-kilometer walk, I didn’t come across one. The catering is also rather sporadic, except for the kiosk at the railway station. A nice, eco-friendly pavilion would be most welcome.
But in defense of Rijkswaterstaat and the municipality of Kampen I have to mention here that the project is in fact not quite finished yet. At the start and end of the channel there are still fences and excavators.
And in the northwest corner of the area a new residential area will be built. If that neighbourhood gets the same quality as the beautiful old town of Kampen, I can live with it. And most likely things will also work out right with the catering then.