With a commanding view of the Feitsui Reservoir (翡翠水庫), Yongan Community (永安) in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Shihding District (石碇) has always been popular with tourists. However, the increasing number of visitors to the area has also raised questions about its impact on the local ecology and water conservation.
Located 27km off Provincial Highway No. 9, Yongan Community — commonly called “the secluded garden of Shihding” by netizens — overlooks Peishih River (北勢溪) as it winds and bends into the Feitsui Reservoir.
Standing in front of the Bagua Manor, billed as the most ideal location for viewing the reservoir, one is afforded a spectacular view of the so-called “Miniature Thousand Island Lake” — referring to the mountain peaks that look like small islands as the mountain range has been mainly covered by the water in the reservoir.
The Manor also points the way to a scenic hiking path leading downwards, giving visitors a panoramic view of the Peishih River and its horseshoe bend — not unlike the Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River in Arizona.
According to Bagua Manor owner Chuang Ching-ho (莊清和), about 1,500 to 2,000 tourists visit the area during weekends and holidays.
The beauty of the scenery at Yongan has spread largely via social networking on the Internet and not because of government promotion, Chuang said, adding that as a result of the growing volume of visitors, some local residents have been thinking of setting up shops and eateries to cater to tourists.
Chuang used to be a dedicated tea farm owner, but with more visitors coming to his farm asking to use the rest room or to dispose of their garbage, he decided to set up a cafe and offer light meals on the side.
However, Shihding District chief Wu Chin-yin (吳金印) expressed reservations about the idea.
The district office initially thought of helping to promote the district’s tourism potential, but the large number of visitors has far exceeded its expectations.
The paths leading to and from the community are torturous and narrow, making traffic and parking a problem, Wu said, adding that the problem has been compounded by the number of large tourist buses visiting the area.
The Water Resource Agency’s Taipei water management office and the Taipei City Feitsui Reservoir Administration have also expressed concern that the hordes of tourists might affect ongoing ecological conservation efforts at the reservoir.
Taipei City Feitsui Reservoir Administration chief Liu Ming-lung (劉銘龍) cited concern over water quality given the huge volume of garbage — mainly plastic bags and bottles — swept into the reservoir from Pinglin District (坪林) after Typhoon Soulik hit the nation earlier this month, as well as tourists going into restricted areas.
“Yongan Community and the tourist hiking paths have been extant for many years and we would not think of asking the community to relocate or to stop using these paths to protect the water source,” Liu said.
However, “it would be better to have as little tourist activity as possible,” Liu said.
If the visitor numbers begin to severely impact on the local ecology, the agency would recommend that the district office limit the number of tourists, or set certain periods when they are allowed to pass through, Liu said.
Liu added that his agency would consider expanding the air quality monitoring system for National Highway 5 and Pinglin District — both of which are upstream of the reservoir — to the Yongan area.
New Taipei City Tourism and Travel Department chief Chen Kuo-chun (陳國君) said the city government and its Taipei counterpart are both monitoring the situation in Yongan. Should there be questions about water conservation at the reservoir, the two city governments would work together on a solution.