DUBAI // When Naomi Stagg was in training for the Ras al Khaimah half marathon, she would wake up at 6am and drive for 20 minutes to the nearest jogging track to run before work. Starting today, however, the 30-year-old British expatriate who works in the services industry in Abu Dhabi needs only to walk a few yards to find a similarly cushioned path with manicured gardens at the newly opened Al Barsha Pond Park.
The Dh22 million (US$6m) development is one of four "pond parks" being opened by Dubai Municipality this week - the others are in Al Quoz, Al Nahda and Al Qusais 3 - as part of its plan to make eight per cent of the emirate green space. At the centre of the parks are ponds that - besides looking rather nice - are designed to help drain the surrounding areas, especially during rains that, such as the recent ones, can cause flooding.
Just a few years ago, most of Al Barsha resembled a dust bowl filled with the shells of family villas and tower blocks under construction. Those same villas and tower blocks now make up one of the emirate's most bustling neighbourhoods. But until today, the area was bereft of green spaces where residents could spend a few hours away from city life. "I am so pleased it has opened," Ms Stagg said yesterday.
"Before, I was going to Al Safa Park to do a bit of a run because that was the closest park I was aware of with a jogging track, and a lot of my friends used it. I have been waiting for it to open. We went to have a look recently, and the facilities looked great, so it is really good news." Yesterday, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, opened Al Barsha Pond Park in the company of scores of schoolchildren waving Emirati flags and singing the national anthem.
The park has transformed the area, which lies behind Mall of the Emirates. Lush greenery and landscaped gardens now frame an array of sporting facilities that include tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, an asphalt skating area and 1.4km jogging and cycle tracks. At the centre of the park, there is a large oval pond measuring 4.8 hectares that is ideal for small boats. There is no charge for entering.
Speaking at the launch, Hussain Lootah, the municipality's director general, said the 5.25-hectare park would encourage residents to be more active. But, he said, the pond also had a more pragmatic purpose as well: to act as a cost-effective water drainage system in the low-lying area. "This has a number of purposes, both to lower the water table, collecting rainfall so that the runoff comes to the lake and is then taken to the sea," he said.
When the pond's water levels get high, a pipe to the sea drains the excess water directly into the ocean. A fountain ensures the water is kept moving to prevent the build up of algae. Dr Reza Khan, the director of Dubai Zoo and a bird specialist, said he had already spotted two rare migratory birds from Central Asia at the new park. "It will be a great place. A lot of birds will come here, spend a day or so here and then move on," he said. "The greenery, the pond, they have plenty of drinking water and they have shade. It is very good, especially for the birds and insects.
"The resident dove is already here and the ring dove is likely to come in soon. By next year, most local birds will be coming here - sparrows, crested larks, parakeets. "This is great for people and for wild animals, and it is the safest place for birds especially to stay because people don't tend to disturb them." Ms Stagg, meanwhile, is just hoping that being able to run near home will provide her with a greater incentive to run regularly.
"It's great that I can walk across to a park and I am hoping it will encourage me to run," she said. "It is just nice to be outside before it gets too hot and perhaps take a game of tennis with friends." @Email:email@example.com