Sustaining Hong Kong’s 400 miles of mountaineering trails, one step at a time

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Hong Kong (CNN) — Felix Yeung stops to permit a pair of giant, black buffaloes to lumber previous.

He is standing on a mountaineering path in Ma On Shan Nation Park, a jumble of mountains and luxurious forest in jap Hong Kong. Beneath his ft, the trail itself, as soon as neatly marked, has blurred, its stones surrounded by scuffed up filth and trampled vegetation.

That is an issue for Yeung, a rustic parks officer with the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Division (AFCD), which is answerable for managing Hong Kong’s 440 sq. kilometers (170 sq miles) of public land — sprawling hills and mountains, seashores, and islands, dotted with trails, barbecue areas, and tenting grounds.

Wild cows are one of a number of species that can be seen in Hong Kong's country parks.

Wild cows are one in all a variety of species that may be seen in Hong Kong’s nation parks.

James Griffiths/CNN

Mountain climbing trails in Hong Kong need to endure intense temperatures, torrential rains and typhoons, which blow down bushes and block paths. Common use widens a path, as increasingly folks step off the trail to overhaul or stroll a number of individuals abreast, and water injury exacerbates the issue by turning filth into treacherous mud.

On high of their meant customers, a path additionally has to accommodate buffalo, wild cows, and boars, who sometimes dig components of it up. However these intruders are nothing in comparison with the first downside: the folks the path was constructed for.

What does coronavirus need to do with mountaineering?

Path upkeep has, like many different points, been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Whereas paths are designed to be hiked, their use additionally means a sluggish destruction, forcing AFCD to have interaction in fixed repairs and maintenance throughout greater than 610 kilometers (380 miles) of trails.

“Frequent use and excessive utilization of the paths has grow to be an issue for us,” Yeung says. “At some instances, deterioration has really been sooner than the upkeep, so we’ve got to work to try to discover a method to protect sustainable utilization.”

People pose for photos at a viewpoint overlooking Sai Kung in Hong Kong's Ma On Shan Country Park on October 16, 2020.

Folks pose for images at a viewpoint overlooking Sai Kung in Hong Kong’s Ma On Shan Nation Park on October 16, 2020.

James Griffiths/CNN

With some 7.5 million folks sharing 1,100 sq. kilometers (425 sq miles), Hong Kong is among the many most densely populated locations on earth. By comparability, the smallest state in the US, Rhode Island, is greater than double the entire space, with round a seventh of the inhabitants. And in contrast to Rhode Island, Hong Kong has a fame — solely partly deserved — of being a “Blade Runner”-style urbanscape of neon and high-rises.

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Lower off from touring elsewhere, and with many workplaces, eating places, seashores and gymnasiums within the metropolis closed, folks have been confined greater than ever to their residences, among the many smallest and most costly in any metropolis on this planet.

“The scale of public area obtainable to most individuals is like the dimensions of a rest room cubicle,” stated Alicia Lui, mission director of TrailWatch, a Hong Kong-based mountaineering app. “Folks need to go someplace for contemporary air and train.”

For a lot of locals, mountaineering has been a life saver amid the pandemic. TrailWatch says it has seen an almost 150% enhance within the variety of new app downloads within the first half of the yr, in comparison with the identical time in 2019, and a greater than 100% uptick within the variety of folks monitoring hikes utilizing the app.

The busier the paths are, the faster they degrade, and the much less time AFCD employees have for repairs. Whereas sections could be closed off, this dangers folks detouring round them by means of the forest — precisely what the division is making an attempt to keep away from.

Felix Yeung, a country parks officer, poses for a photo at a viewpoint in Ma On Shan Country Park, Hong Kong, on October 16, 2020.

Felix Yeung, a rustic parks officer, poses for a photograph at a viewpoint in Ma On Shan Nation Park, Hong Kong, on October 16, 2020.

James Griffiths/CNN

AFCD doesn’t have devoted employees charged solely with path upkeep. Duty is unfold amongst all employees primarily based within the parks, who additionally take care of fireplace prevention, facility repairs, helping nation park guests and different duties.

Since 2016, AFCD has engaged round 600 volunteers in path upkeep workshops, however the work continues to be largely carried out by staff. That work could be arduous and sluggish. To keep away from additional damaging the paths or surrounding forest, AFCD largely doesn’t use autos, and almost all supplies are transported by hand, generally for miles uphill.

Whereas stones and different supplies are often sourced regionally, they sometimes need to be lugged up the mountain from close to sea degree. Piles of supplies are created on the high of a path throughout upkeep, earlier than being moved down it throughout development.

The hassle that goes into constructing and sustaining the paths can generally be invisible. AFCD does most of its work throughout weekdays and low season. And in current instances, the division has shifted away from the concrete and paving stones of a long time previous to present the paths a extra pure look.

Traditional hikes, fashionable metropolis

At this time, there are round 130 official mountaineering trails in Hong Kong, plus many extra unofficial paths used as shortcuts by locals or blazed (in opposition to AFCD’s needs and recommendation) by adventurous lovers. These vary from simple “household trails” to genuinely difficult routes throughout and over mountains.

Hong Kong’s oldest paths date again to earlier than the area was colonized by the British, within the second half of the nineteenth century, small trails connecting villages and communities scattered throughout the world that’s now the New Territories.

Different trails cross by deserted gun turrets and fortresses relationship again to World Battle II. In addition to boars and buffalo, hikers can sometimes spot monkeys and snakes, of which Hong Kong has a number of venomous — although fortunately uncommon — varieties.

A woman walks on a recently repaired trail in the Ma On Shan Country Park, Hong Kong, on October 16, 2020.

A lady walks on a lately repaired path within the Ma On Shan Nation Park, Hong Kong, on October 16, 2020.

James Griffiths/CNN

“Hong Kong is fairly distinctive in you can just about get to a rustic park inside an hour, usually by public transport,” stated Lui, the TrailWatch mission director.

However with that ease of entry may come problems with overcrowding and overuse, and AFCD admits that it has struggled up to now to coach park customers over the necessity to protect mountaineering trails and keep away from going off path.

“Lots of people should not conscious that trails are impacted by folks mountaineering,” Lui stated. “It is not simply that they stroll on the identical path, because it will get crowded, folks find yourself preventing for area, increasing the trail, you begin to see potholes, the soil loosens. And every little thing is an Instagrammable location now, so folks aren’t simply strolling on the paths, they’re climbing rocks, they’re overstepping boundaries (to get images).”

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Yeung, the AFCD officer, stated that previously, the federal government largely carried out upkeep itself, and adopted a really “high down” mannequin which did little to have interaction the neighborhood. This has modified regularly, and AFCD more and more depends on hikers to assist, particularly with responding to main injury, akin to attributable to typhoons. AFCD can be investing extra in schooling, encouraging folks to “get their arms soiled, and talk with the spirit of the nation park,” Yeung stated.

This picture taken on January 12, 2016 shows a monkey sitting on a fence in the Kam Shan Country Park in Hong Kong.

This image taken on January 12, 2016 reveals a monkey sitting on a fence within the Kam Shan Nation Park in Hong Kong.

ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/AFP through Getty Photos

Lui stated that the issue might not be really easy to unravel, significantly as nation park use is on the rise.

“Sustaining trails is definitely a scientific artwork kind, it is not like anybody can simply go on the market and preserve them,” she stated. “Folks have to be extra conscious and get entangled in defending trails, together with enthusiastic about whether or not it is sensible to have intervals the place sure trails are rested fully.”

Past the wear and tear and tear attributable to guests, nation parks have generally come underneath risk from different areas. Some 40% of Hong Kong is presently protected parkland, and that land is generally pointed to as a possible resolution for the town’s housing woes. Builders have additionally expressed a want to carve off land for golf programs or luxurious estates, although such plans are a far more durable promote to the general public.
A mountain top in Hong Kong's Hang Hau area, seen in July 2020.

A mountain high in Hong Kong’s Dangle Hau space, seen in July 2020.

James Griffiths/CNN

Nor would the price of shrinking nation parks outweigh any advantages, environmental teams argue, pointing to different potential areas for increasing housing, significantly brownfield (ex-industrial) websites and current, underutilized land.

“Growth inside nation parks … would trigger irreversible injury to the setting and ecosystems, which is unquestionably not sustainable progress,” Pals of the Earth Hong Kong stated in 2018.

Trailwatch’s Lui agreed, saying that any growth of the nation parks or slicing again on mountaineering areas could be a serious blow to one of many metropolis’s finest options.

“It is not simply mountaineering that’s good for our bodily well being, being in nature is sweet for our well-being (and) psychological well being,” she stated.

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