Mon, Dec 15, 2014 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Smangus seeks to balance conservation, development

By Kan Chih-chi and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Sunlight bathes a giant, ancient tree in the Smangus community in Hsinchu County’s Jianshi Township on April 10, 2012.

Photo: Liao Hsueh-ju, Taipei Times

Recognizing that tourism is a double-edged sword that could bring economic benefits to the Atayal community of Smangus, but could also wreak ecological damage, elders of the village in Hsinchu County’s Jianshi Township (尖石) have convened to discuss plans to limit the amount of visitors to the area to 200 to 250 per day.

According to Mu Masay, a young villager, residents hope that visitors can help the village protect the mountains and forests surrounding it, but are concerned that if too many tourists arrive, their everyday lives may be disturbed.

As the last Aboriginal village in the country to have electricity installed and be connected to the “outside” via government-built roads,” Smangus has aroused ever-rising interest as a travel destination since the discovery of large grove of ancient trees there in 1994.

The rise in tourism has improved the village’s economy over time and in 2004, the government convinced 28 families — accounting for about 80 percent of the villagers — to agree to a system of “living and working together on communal land.”

Under this principle, the village has divvied up human resources into different types of work, such as labor and production, the managing of restaurants and hostels, as well as construction and agriculture, with the overall aim of sustaining its tourism industry.

Mu Masay, 29, was among the villagers who agreed with this concept.

“The villagers worked to pave the roads because we wanted tourists to have a better path to walk on when they come to see the forest groves,” Mu Masay said.

“We carried in all of the building materials ourselves and when we the work had progressed far enough to make it inefficient to return to the village at night, we would often sleep on the ground at the work site and continue paving the next day,” he added.

Guides such as Mu Masay — of which there are about 50 — have to be ready to guide tourists into the woods and up the mountains at 6am every morning, with a round trip covering about 10km in total.

“We are also tasked with other jobs, such as preparing dinner in the evenings or cleaning up rooms in tourist lodgings to prepare it for the next customer,” Mu Masay said, adding that their workday usually ends at 10pm.

“In the off-season, we usually have one day off, but during vacations and holidays all of us work every day,” Mu Masay said, adding that their monthly pay is about NT$16,000.

During the holiday seasons, there can be up to 300 tourists staying in village lodgings, but this amount taxes Smangus’ manpower to the limit, Mu Masay said, adding that the highest number of lodgers they had received on one day was 500.

Mu Masay did not dwell too much on the low pay, adding that it was the same amount earned by villagers in other professions.

“It is our belief that our efforts will help the village develop better and in return, the village takes care of its residents, with subsidies for education, marriage, childbirth and medical needs coming from village funds,” Mu Masay said.

The only thing he expressed concern about was the maintenance of the environment.

“We have labored and sweated so that tourists can enjoy their time here, and we only hope that they appreciate our efforts and maintain our ecology and homes by not littering, or taking flowers and pieces of wood back home because they find them pretty,” Mu Masay said.

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