Sun, Aug 19, 2001 - Page 17 News List

Taiwan's rivers offer vast potential for adventure

Tracing the sources of rivers has a long history. This activity has recently begun to establish itself as an adventure sport in Taiwan. However, despite an ideal natural environment, organizational issues hinder the sport's development

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Arriving at an interview last month, Lin was delighted at having just discovered five unrecorded waterfalls in northeastern Taiwan, an area he has studied intensively over the last ten years, tracing all 181 streams in the Tatun mountain range (大屯火山群).

"Back in the 1960s when I started mountain climbing, people like us were regarded as weirdos," he said. Now, the market for information about Taiwan's natural environment and outdoor activities is growing rapidly, and various government agencies and media are trying to promote, regulate and inform, so far with mixed results.

POPULATION GROWTH

Judging by the proliferation of programs focusing on nature and the growing popularity of adventure competition, the interest in outdoors activities has grown considerably over the years. According to Arthur Mai, formerly a producer with Star TV's long running Taiwan Expedition (台灣探險隊) program, this market is growing far in advance of practical knowledge and real awareness. Often, to make them more appealing, "programs will purvey incorrect behavior." Mai is currently making a series of programs specifically addressing safety and outdoor survival issues in river tracing.

"This is a period or growth," Mai said. He himself regularly leads university and college groups on outdoors training exercises, and while he is keen to promote a sport which he believes allows participants to enjoy natural beauty, he also believes that providing accurate information and training are important parts of this movement.

With increasing numbers of people at large in the mountains pursuing a wide variety of activities, the creation of high-level organizations to regulate, or at least monitor, this activity has become increasingly important.

The creation of the Chinese Taipei Steam Association is one step in this direction, but unfortunately even this seems unlikely to resolve the bifurcation of Taiwan's river tracing community. The Taiwan Four Seasons River Tracing Association (台灣四季溯溪協會) is likely to be formed early next year, to claim its share of the pie. "Its all about being able to get more government subsidies," said Tenson Tsai (蔡天生), the owner of a mountaineering store and long time associate of Four Seasons.

Chang of Taiwan Mountain Magazine is inclined to agree. "The creation of the [Chinese Taipei Stream] Association is unlikely to make much difference," she said, "because most of the groups in the sport won't bow down to any other."

"Most activities will continue to be conducted at a club level," Chuang continued, "but we will be able to do some wider promotional activities through the association."

Chuang has already been instrumental in organizing the annual River Spirit Conference (溪仙大會), which will meet for the sixth time this November, a major event that brings together river tracing enthusiasts from all over Taiwan. "A lot of it is eating and drinking of course," Chuang said irreverently, "but it is also an opportunity to exchange information."

The Association has held events such as its April National River Tracing Training Conference (全國溯溪技能觀摩研習會), which enthusiasts believe provides a good venue for honing technical skills and also helps build a sense of community.

But in the end, as Chuang said, "river tracing is really a bit like direct sales. You bring people you know into the sport."

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