In southern Tainan County, Lin Yi-lin (林宜潾), a fourth grader, might finally get the opportunity to finish her primary education at Longchi Elementary School's (龍崎國小) Longchuan Branch (龍船分校).
The branch has been saved from being closed after the government launched a reconstruction project at a nearby river to turn an abandoned valley into one of the leading ecological tourism spots in Taiwan.
Originating in Longchi Township, the Peitzegou River (埤仔溝溪) flows into the Erjen River (二仁溪) after traveling 4.5km. Its catchment area covers 330 hectares of rare mudstone badlands, on which no vegetation can grow naturally. Also known as "Moon World," the barren valley covers more than 100,000 hectares of badlands distributed over 19 townships in Tainan and Kaohsiung counties, accounting for 3 percent of Taiwan's land area.
A testament to nature's resilience, for decades the barren wasteland's only benefit to residents has been the beauty of its desolation. On rainy days, linear erosion promotes the formation of gullies and rills. On clear days, dried, hardened silt and gravel with a high pH level turn the valley into a desolate wasteland, sometimes causing a polluting haze.
Harsh growing conditions have forced residents into a challenging lifestyle -- arduously growing pineapples, longan and green bamboo shoots in nearby areas. In 1960s, residents began to face a tougher future when the growing plastics industry started replacing bamboo products and craft items. Typhoon Thelma devastated southern Taiwan in July 1977, further forcing residents of remote mountainous townships, including Longchi, to look for work in cities. The population of Longchi has dramatically dropped from 6,300 in the early 1980s to 4,300 at present.
Ten-year-old Lin and her 35 schoolmates recently saw the barren valley grow more verdant. At the government-sponsored Ecotechnology Expo 2003, which was held in Longchi last Saturday, they served as young spokespeople, explaining the diverse methods of ecological engineering adopted in the valley to tourists.
Showing visitors an embankment that has been strengthened by used tires, students said the technique stabilizes bare slopes and reduces soil erosion, helping plants to take root. It also offers a means of recycling old tires.
Pointing at the greenish slopes, students said an ecological engineering method involving the planting of an East Indian grass, vetiver, had been successfully adopted there to prevent erosion.
At a riverside pavilion built right on top of a vertical overflow pipe, which allows water from a reservoir to fall into an earthen dam, Lin said the pavilion was a perfect place to enjoy a fabulous view.
The facilities beautifying the engineering work -- which has just been completed by the Council of Agriculture's Soil and Water Conservation Bureau -- include bamboo shelters, pathways and ecological ponds. Integrating concepts of disaster prevention, recreation and ecological conservation, the bureau has designated a proper route for tourists in the catchment area.
According to officials, past failures in attempts to preserve soil by using conventional engineering methods, such as building cement escape canals, prompted them to turn to alternative, ecologically friendly methods.
"It will take years for the valley to flourish. But we have seen new signs of life already," said Wu Huei-long (