For 32 years, it was the venue for the annual National Inter-School Cross Country Championships. This yearly event saw throngs of school runners, myself included, coming to MacRitchie for weekly training sessions to master the trails. During Cross Country meets, the entire reservoir would transform into an unimaginable “stadium” embedded in nature – temporary “holding rooms” would emerge around the more shaded parts of the park where school teams would gather; runners would do warm up sprints up the hill on which the Lim Bo Seng memorial is sited; landmarks such as the zig-zag bridge and public toilets became start and end points for the races; hundreds of school supporters would line the routes where possible; even the car park would be blocked off as an area for the prize presentation ceremony to take place. It is no wonder that after the meet was relocated, segments of the route quickly became overgrown and unsafe to run along.
The MacRitchie Runners 25 (MR25) running club is another fraternity of runners who continue to frequent the trails. Founded in 1976, it is a club for runners who can complete the 5km running trail in MacRitchie under 25 minutes. Based on a time trial, runners are categorized into nine animal types (from fastest to slowest) – cheetah, gazelle, ostrich, hare, horse, greyhound, deer, tortoise and snail. The club holds regular running sessions and time trials, the most challenging being the MR25 Ultramarathon which is held at the end of December every year. In this event, runners are to run as many 10.2km-long loops as they can within 12 hours, from 7:00am to 7:00pm. Aside from being a test of endurance, it is an event where like-minded runners can come together to do what they love most.
MacRitchie’s trails are unmatched by any other in Singapore due to their challenging and varied terrain, and well-shaded routes. When too overwhelmed by foliage, one could also exit to surrounding urban elements such as the SICC golf course or Lornie Road.
I have very fond memories of MacRitchie, the most amusing one being that of the afternoon a monkey stole my lunch (yes, literally stole my lunch) while I had left my belongings to use the changing room; it was a home-made wholemeal beef sandwich that had been packed in tupperware. I came back just in time to witness the monkey waving my lunchbox mockingly at me while crouched on the roof of a pavilion.
A Historical Timeline of MacRitchie Reservoir Park
1867 – First water supply system implemented in Singapore, named the Impounding Reservoir, constructed through a donation of S$13,000 by philanthropist Tan Kim Seng
1891 – Enlarged at a cost of S$32,000 under the supervision of James MacRitchie, the Municipal Engineer from 1883 to 1895
1902 – Water famine occurred, raising the need for more water. As a result, plans were made to channel water from the Kallang River into the Impounding Reservoir.
1905 – Impounding Reservoir extended a second time to take in extra water from the Kallang River
1907 –Renamed Thomson Road Reservoir, after its designer John Turnbull Thomson
1922 – Renamed again as MacRitchie Reservoir, in commemoration of James MacRitchie’s work
1942-1943 – The Synonan Jinja Shrine (Light of the South Shrine) was built in the forest near Sime Road, by over 20,000 Australian and British prisoners-of-war deep in the jungle to commemorate Japanese soldiers who died in the conquest of Malaya and Sumatra. It was a venue for public ceremonies where the local population was expected to show respect to the Japanese.
1945 – Before their surrender, the Japanese destroyed the Syonan Jinja shrine for fear of its desecration by returning British forces.
13 January 1946 – Singapore war hero, Lim Bo Seng’s remains were transported in a coffin to a hill in MacRitchie Reservoir for burial with full military honours
1967 – 12ha MacRitchie Reservoir Park opened with fountain, flower clock, jogging track, exercise area, children’s playground, tea kiosk and an orchid garden. On the occasional Sunday, band performances would take place at the bandstand, sport fishing was allowed at designated areas in the reservoir.
26 March 1971 – First National Inter-School Cross Country race held at MacRitchie Reservoir. The meet was consequently held annually at MacRitchie.
1976 – Singapore’s premier running club, MacRitchie Runners 25 (MR25) founded
2002 – The location of the remaining relics of the Syonan Jinja shrine were marked by the National Heritage Board as a Historic Site.
2002 – Last National Inter-School Cross Country meet to be held at MacRitchie, purportedly due to safety concerns of narrow and muddy trails. The annual event has yet to find a comparable route, with subsequent meets experimentally held at Sentosa, Turf City, Botanical Gardens and Bedok Reservoir.
2004 – HSBC TreeTop Walk, a 250m aerial free-standing suspension bridge spanning the two highest points in MacRitchie (Bukit Pierce and Bukit Kalang), completed. It is 25m at its highest point and offers visitors a panoramic view of Upper Pierce Reservoir and the surrounding rainforest.
2007 – 2011 – As part of an NParks renewal programme, the park was upgraded with a new visitors’ centre, multi-storey car park, new refreshment kiosk, partially submerged board walk, toilets and other improvements.