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A fancy water fountain greets the many new visitors to the newly refurbished Entoto Natural Park.

Wubealem Eshetu, a mother of three girls, had never been to the mountain of Entoto, but she took the journey last week for the first time in 35 years of living in the capital.

On a late morning at the end of last month, she laid out a picnic blanket on the green space at Entoto Park, with her three kids all under the age of 15. She was watching them running around in the green area.

She took out snacks for her kids just as the sun broke out in its radiance in the middle of the tall trees. Simply bathing in the warmth of it makes one forget about the pandemic and the politics packed into a time bomb in the city below.

"I don't remember the last time I have appreciated the joy of sitting down with my kids in this kind of scenery," said Wubealem. "I've never thought it was beautiful like this. At this moment I'm ensnared with its beauty."

Wubealem's appreciation of nature was inspired by the newly revamped mountain that towers over Addis Abeba, Entoto Natural Park (Nursery). Envisioned by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) close to a year ago, the Park was inaugurated by ex-Deputy Mayor Takele Uma.

The wild sanctuary is often associated with the keywords of the historical fortress, the home of several monasteries, the wild ancient forest, the spring water bath on the high plateau and the challenging hiking trails. With the new project, a horse ranch, restaurants, amphitheatre, archery range, an artificial lake and cabins will be added.

The project, which is currently overseen by the Entoto Tourist Destination Development Project Office under the River Basins & Green Development Agency, is 55pc complete.

The new Park, which many have pride in for being fully constructed by local companies, has four entrance points: Sululta, Qechene, Addis Gebeya and Shero Meda. Walking through the Sululta Gate, the first thing one notices are the suspended tables of Fresh Corner, a local greengrocer and cafe, and a kitchen owned by Luna Farm Export & Slaughterhouse.

Fresh Corner was the first to open its doors prior to the opening of the Park. The fifth chain for the brand has been offering service to hikers and visitors for the last two months with four suspended round tables held against Entoto's tall trees.

"We've warmed up the Park and welcomed visitors," said Samuel Mamo, operations manager of the chain. "We've been overwhelmed by the masses that are flocking to the area."

The chaotic medley of chatter, music and the occasional clink of ceramic have lit up the area, which is currently filled with ongoing construction for new vendors rushing to join the bandwagon.

The structure of the building compliments the nature of the Park, as the building showcases stairs and an outer structure made of wood.

Just in front of Fresh Corner is the lookout point, a platform designed for visitors looking for photo opportunities. The lookout, which rests on a footprint of close to 1,000Sqm, was constructed by Rama Construction, a 25-year-old construction company that is responsible for Nile Insurance's 25-storey building, in partnership with China Jiangsu International Economic & Technical Cooperation.

Towering over of the mountain, the structure of the lookout is painted in glaring white and shaded with patches of grey, offering a telescopic view over the whole capital city. Across the wall of the lookout are art displays of symbolic representations of Entoto, including women carrying sticks on their backs. The construction company completed the lookout close to two months ago.

Vendors occupying the Park were chosen by a team under the Office of the Prime Minister. Close to 11 companies were chosen by the team, and a raffle was held to secure specific spots in the Park.

Effoi Pizza obtained a space just across from Fresh Corner. The physical presence of the pizzeria is unique - wasted lumber from the project was recycled to construct the new building.

"We were going for zero waste in the construction in order to maintain the green spirit of the area," said Tesga Woubishet, founder of Effoi Pizza. "We had to clean up the area first, since it was used for dumping construction materials, as well as designing the water drainage system."

Effoi Pizza, known for its use of different colours for each of its locations, has titled this recent edition Effoi Zen. In an effort to design a zen garden, the pizzeria is constructing small ponds alongside sitting areas that already seem to be popular spots for couples and families.

"Not only are a lot of people coming to the Park, but they're coming as if the mountain was built yesterday," Tesga said. "The new Park has introduced the mountain to the masses."

Indeed, observing the mass of people who are flocking to the mountain, one may think the mountain was new as well. Close to 250 people a day on average are coming to the Park before it has been officially opened.

Walking along the road to the water dam construction, there is a unique skeleton of a building that is actually designed to float. This floating building is handled by Zoma Museum, an environmentally conscious art institution in Mekanisa that has also left its print on Unity Park inside the National Palace.

"I didn't want to touch the land setting at all, because I didn't want to fight with the land," said Meskerem Assegued, a curator and co-owner of Zoma Museum. "That's when we chose to go for a floating restaurant and make peace with the land."

Zoma is constructing the restaurant in such a way that people can see the land through the floor beneath their feet, as well as the water that flows down the mountain.

Meskerem envisions people dining while listening to the gurgling sound of the distant waterfall, the melody of the rushing water and the chorus of unseen creatures in the wild.

"We built a small house as a headquarters for construction using the traditional cement and blocks," she said. "We found out later that since the land is always wet, the base of the house was rotting. After witnessing this, we made the decision to float the restaurant, which was a great choice."

The dam, which will compliment the floating restaurant, is built to showcase a fountain pump. Just below the floating restaurant further down the mountain the construction of an artificial lake is underway.

Mesekerem admits the area poses an architectural and engineering challenge due to the rocky setting. Close to six months after beginning construction, the floating restaurant, dubbed Zoma Entoto, has a completed skeleton and is suspended by steel.

"The plan is to make this floating restaurant a classic fine dining location," she said.

Zoma's presence at Entoto extends to the construction of an amphitheatre, which is expected to host different shows.

Other territories of Zoma include small cafes, a children's centre that allows kids to play with mud and plant trees, as well as gift shops, art displays, and reading centres featuring a bookstore and library. It also offers a wellness centre that has a massage parlour and spa, three lodges for families and couples and a greenhouse.

"Zoma is going to be one village in Entoto," said Mesekerem, who says that the new development has left the mountain mostly untouched and will help to preserve it as well.

Zoma is currently working on partnerships with the private sector and government on how to assist one another in the development of the project. So far, there is no cemented partnership, but it is also planning to hold fundraising events to realise the project.

The Park is also occupied with other vendors such as Kuriftu Resort & Spa, Kategna, Mama's Kitchen, Green Gold Coffee, and Ezana Winery among others.

The place is peaceful, and it is a pleasure to saunter through it. But there are flaws nonetheless, including shortages of power and water.

"We're bringing in water with trucks currently," said Samuel of Fresh Corner Kitchen.

This might be the advantage of opening up early before the completion of the project, according to him.

The site has also been criticised by vendors for frequently losing power. Most vendors are using big generators to fill the electricity gap.

More visitors coming to the lookout point and restaurants are not disposing of their trash properly.

This calls for effective control of how people throw away garbage, and banning any kind of illegal trash disposal in the Park is one step the government could take, according to Mekuria Aregaw (PhD), associate professor at Addis Abeba University School of Natural Science.

"Also, installing trash cans in each corner of the mountain where humans trek is another way to fix this problem," he said.

The once rocky and challenging hiking trails of the mountain have been smoothed over with asphalt paths that extend for close to 12Km, built by the Ethiopian Roads Authority. The road is lighted by a series of streetlamps.

Still, visitors can experience the slippery mud trails and tricky pathways - working to maintain balance and looking out for one another - on the untouched part of the mountain.

After witnessing the beauty of the Park and the new facilities, Wubealem was satisfied with the time she spent there, saying it creates a real bond with nature.

"People in the capital frustrated with the buildings and car fumes should come here once in a while to get baptised with fresh air," she said.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 06,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1062]

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