Sun, Jun 27, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Reestablishing a golden era

The development of the Gold Ecological Park in Jinguashih looks set to turn the sleepy hamlet into a bustling tourist center that will outshine its better-known neighbor, Chiufen

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Narrow-gauge railway once used miners in Jingguashih has been renovated and makes for a pleasant way to reach the museum and take in the scenery.

PHOTO: GAVIN PHIPPS, TAIPEI TIMES

Once one of the nation's largest mining settlements, Jinguashih (金瓜石) and its rich cultural heritage and historical significance has long been overshadowed by that of its popular tourist-attracting neighbor, Chiufen. Originally the center of Taiwan's gold-mining industry, Chiufen and its multitude of teahouses, handicraft stores, picturesque narrow thoroughfares and long, snaking stairwells has been one of northern Taiwan's leading tourist destinations for over 20 years.

All this could change later this summer, however, when the equally picturesque yet little-mentioned town of Jinguashih stamps its mark on the tourist map with the opening of the Gold Ecological Park (黃金博物園區).

Not that the soft yellowish corrosion-resistant element was the only precious metal mined at Jinghuashih. The area's copper deposits were once so extensive that the town was the hub of the Asian copper mining industry and its deposits of silver outweighed those of its gold.

Large deposits of precious metals were first discovered in Jinguashih in 1890. From the late 1800s until as recently as 1987, when mining operations ceased, over 2 million tonnes of precious metals had been exploited from the extensive catacomb of tunnels that covered a combined area of nearly 450km.

Jointly financed by the Taipei County Government (台北縣政府), Taiwan Power Company (台灣電力公司) and Taiwan Sugar Corp. (台糖公司), work on the NT$200 million project began on the site of Jinguashih's old copper mine last November and is due for partial completion this August.

The first stage in the park's development to be opened to the public includes a museum, an ecology center and pathways that follow the route once used by the mine's narrow-gauge railway. Developers expect stage two of the project, which will include renovation of half a dozen Japanese colonial dormitories and a mansion once used by Japan's Emperor as a summer retreat, to be completed later this year and opened early next year.

Along with museum-styled exhibitions and pleasant, meandering pathways, the park will also allow visitors to venture into and walk through an old mine shaft and features Southeast Asia's largest air-filtration system, which has been restored and is now a central and unavoidable feature of the new park.

While the project looks set to transform Jinguashih from a sleepy backwater into a bustling tourist hotspot, residents of Chiufen are concerned that the development will mean a drop in the number of visitors to their town, which for two decades has survived and thrived on tourism.

"I've heard about it and I'm worried. People will see the development as a `new' thing and, of course, it will be the fashionable place to go," said a chain-smoking car park attendant who declined to give his name. "There's nothing new here. And look at the place, there's no room to build any new tourist facilities even if we wanted to."

Tseng Shui-chih (曾水池), owner and curator of the Chiufen Gold Museum (九份金礦博物館), which, since opening in 1993 has been the area's only museum, has slightly stronger views in regards the creation and funding of the Jinguashih project.

"Of course I'm upset. For nearly 20 years Chiufen has been a hugely popular tourist destination. We've received little, if any, funding from the government, but have brought in huge amounts of capital for the county," said Tseng. "They've invested all this money into Jinguashih in order to develop a new tourist infrastructure when we already have one. It's as if [county government] has forgotten about us."

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