EDITORIAL: Enjoying nature and respecting rules

Sat, Sep 01, 2018 - Page 8

Taiwan’s natural beauty is a draw for locals and foreign visitors alike. From its rugged shorelines along the east coast to the peaks of the Central Mountain Range and its many rivers and waterfalls, more people are enjoying its attractions every year, thanks to promotions by the central government and local tourism departments.

However, along with efforts to publicize the delights of exploring small towns and villages, hiking trails, forests and coastal attractions, authorities are having to spend more time and money trying to keep the public safe from their own stupidity, wasting resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.

This is partially the result of the increasing numbers of photographs and videos posted on social media of people visiting popular tourist sites or riskier locations, which encourages others to do the same to post their own photographs.

Many people enjoy exploring and getting off the beaten track, but they should ensure that they are not breaking laws or risking their safety or those of others when they do.

The Taiwan Railways Administration has for years been trying to convince people to stay off old bridges and out of abandoned tunnels, with limited success.

The Neishechuan Iron Bridge (內社川鐵橋), also known as the Liyutan Iron Bridge (鯉魚潭鐵橋), in Miaoli County on what used to be the Old Mountain Line is one such trouble spot for the agency.

Despite fencing it off more than a decade ago and posting warning signs, people continue to walk out onto the bridge to take photographs, even though it is rusty and lacks handrails, forcing local police to issue reminders that violators could be fined up to NT$50,000, news reports said earlier this week.

Meanwhile, the Yilan County Government has been forced to close the Wufengci Scenic Area (五峰旗風景特定區) and find the money to pay for a surveillance camera and loudspeaker installation at the Wufengci Waterfalls (五峰旗瀑布) to enforce the no-swimming rule at the site, after an incident earlier this month in which two foreign tourists were hit by falling rocks while swimming in one of the pools at the falls, sustaining minor injuries.

That accident, the latest in a long string of similar mishaps caused by people entering taped-off areas and ignoring other barricades, led officials to close the entire area to the public until a complete safety evaluation can be carried out.

Hundreds of thousands of people visit the Wufengci Scenic Area annually, but the actions of a few have curtailed the opportunity for others to enjoy the hiking paths and other attractions, at least temporarily.

Given the geology of Taiwan’s mountainous environs, its susceptibility to earthquakes and its weather, accidents can happen, even when people think they are taking precautions, whether it is being hit by falling rocks in Taroko Gorge, getting swept away by a flash flood while on a river-tracing trip in New Taipei City or Hualien County, or being struck by lightning while hiking on Yushan (玉山), to name a few incidents that have made the news in the past few years.

All too often it is local authorities or tour guides who are blamed for not doing more to keep the public safe, but if people are going to ignore signs, clamber over and around barriers, and ignore warnings, they should be fined — and heavily.

Taiwan has so much natural beauty to be explored and enjoyed, but people should remember not to leave their common sense at home when they venture outdoors.