Sat, May 06, 2006 - Page 8 News List

United Taiwan with walking paths

By Lii Ding-tsann 李丁讚

Building "1,000km of natural walking paths around Taiwan" (環島千里步道) is a dream long held by Huang Wu-hsiung (黃武雄), a mathematics professor retired from National Taiwan University.

Together with Hsu Jen-hsiu (徐仁修), founder of the Society of Wilderness (荒野保護協會), and Hsiao Yeh (小野), a well-known author and playwright, Huang launched a campaign to build natural walking paths around the country and his idea has captured people's imaginations -- no less because of the political desolation and corruption that seems to characterize contemporary Taiwan.

Through the joint efforts of local trekking and bicycle enthusiasts, the campaign organizers hope to compile information from different areas and construct a walking path connecting every part of Taiwan. They are also calling on the government to stop any developments except for recreational purposes along the walking paths.

But behind this ideal is a hard reality. The people promoting these walking paths have also seen how urban sprawl is cutting into rural areas. To travel from Taipei to Ilan, it is necessary to take the Northern Coastal Highway. But given the fact that this highway is the main route for most of the east coast's heavy traffic, it is dangerous for both pedestrians and bicycles.

Similarly, going southbound from Taipei, there are only a few roads to choose from. The routes along the coast toward Tamsui (淡水) and Pali (八里) in Taipei County are reasonable and there are a fair number of bicycle trails. Further south, however, it is more problematic because pedestrians and cars have to share the road, and with gravel and container trucks taking the right lane it is extremely dangerous.

The only trails suitable to become part of a country-wide network of walking paths are those pre-existing trails in the mountain areas. The routes from Ilan and Hualien to the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area (花東縱谷國家風景區) are very good paths, well-known by people who get up early in the morning to exercise, but there are too few of these routes to build "1,000km of natural walking paths" around the entire nation.

They are all regional walking paths and cannot easily be linked together, because all rural paths have long been cut-off by the expansion of urban areas. Connections between cities are primarily based on the needs of vehicle traffic, rather than the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists. This is a particularly grave concern along the West coast.

Several years ago when Chen Lu-an (陳履安) was running for the presidency, he participated in the "Taiwan footsteps" activity to walk around the country. He walked for more than 20 days, and found out how bad Taiwan's environmental degradation really is. The areas along the east coast were slightly better, but the areas along the west coast left Chen feeling very disappointed.

If the organizers of the walking path campaign take a stroll along the west coast, they would probably start worrying about their proposal. The scenery isn't very beautiful and the traffic downright dangerous. Anyone beginning such a trek should be wary of their safety.

I support the idea of "1,000km of natural walking paths around Taiwan." But in order to carry it out, more public support is needed, as are investigations to find suitable routes. Promoters need to start with a trial beginning in just one location. The most adaptable locations are on the east coast, especially in the Hualien, Taitung and East Rift Valley area, since there is rural scenery and small markets for the convenience of walkers and people on bicycles. If a continuous scenic trail for people on foot or bicycle can be formed along this area, and if it can create profit opportunities for local residents, it will be easier to persuade people in other areas to follow suite.

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