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[K-Wellness] Feel the breath of nature on a magnificent forest trail

Fun and safe mountaineering from Baekdu to Halla Mountain 

By Korea Herald

Published : Jan. 17, 2023 - 10:02

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Chun Bom-kwon, chairman of the Korea Mountaineering Support Center Chun Bom-kwon, chairman of the Korea Mountaineering Support Center

The Korea Mountaineering Support Center (KOMOUNT), a specialized institution under the Korea Forest Service, manages the national forest trails. The center, which operates the National Mountain Museum and the National Mountaineering School, contributes to improving the quality of life by spreading healthy and safe mountaineering culture.

The center builds an integrated management system for over 11,000 forest trails of about 40,000 kilometers nationwide. It also makes efforts to promote 14 national forest trails of about 1,428 km as a global brand.

From May 2021, the Korea Forest Service started designating forest trails with high ecological, historical and cultural values as national forest trails and has been managing and operating them systematically.

The national forest trails include the Jirisan Dullegil, the Baekdu-daegan trail, the Demilitarized Zone Punch Bowl Dullegil, the Daegwallyeong Forest Road, the Naepo Cultural Forest Trail, the Uljin Geumgang Pine Trail and the Hallasan Dullegil. The trails are visited by some 2 million people annually, and the goal is to reach an annual 6 million visitors by 2030.

The Hallasan Dullegil is a beautiful forest trail visited by around 840,000 people every year. It is the only place in the nation where various vertical plants, ranging from temperate to Alpine, can be viewed. It is home to a complex ecosystem, with subtropical and polar plants.

It is also a veritable treasure trove where about 2,000 species of plants grow, accounting for nearly half of the plant distribution in Korea. Moreover, 81 species — making up 72 percent of orchid plants — are found in the Hallasan Dullegil. It is the largest habitat for the rare Tomentose condor-vine plant. The forest and valley areas are a habitat for wild animals and home to endangered bird species, including the Fairy pitta, Japanese paradise flycatcher and White-backed woodpecker.

The hiking population has been increasing annually. In 2021, the center conducted a mountaineering survey for adults across the nation aged from 19 to 79 years old. The results showed that 77 percent of the respondents, or 31.69 million people, went hiking or trekking once a month, including once or twice every two months. This demonstrates a growing trend, up from 63 percent in 2015 and 71 percent in 2018.

Mountaineering boosts the immune system and restores physical and mental health. The sounds of the forest help people feel relaxed. This is caused by white noise with a relatively wide pitch range, known to improve concentration. The phytoncide in the air stimulates the olfactory system, bringing relaxation and refreshing the mind. Walking in the forest is more effective at preventing skin cancer, cataracts and UV exposure than walking in the city.

With a growing hiking and trekking population, mountain accidents are on the rise. According to government statistics, 8,454 accidents (4,449 injuries and 124 deaths) occurred in 2020, a 57 percent on-year increase.

The center is carrying out various projects to spread safe hiking and trekking culture, and has developed a safety manual for forest road workers.

The 14th of every month is a safety inspection day on forest roads. It is when road conditions, facilities, tools and vehicles are inspected, and onsite safety training for workers is carried out. There is also training for mountain rescuers to boost their skills. The center eliminated 91.5 percent of hazardous facilities after implementing a risk assessment on national forest trails.

The National Mountaineering School homepage provides various pieces of information on hiking and trekking essentials.

“When people have basic knowledge about safe hiking, winter mountaineering and forest road exploration are highly recommended. Hikers will have the opportunity to engage in environmental protection activities such as picking up garbage and reducing their carbon footprint while promoting health,” KOMOUNT Chairman Chun Bom-kwon said.

The center also contributes to local development through forest roads. As part of an environmental, social and corporate governance project, the center is creating the East-West trail to reconstruct an area affected by the Uljin forest fire. One of the routes running 15.7 km in North Gyeongsang Province will be completed in September.

Moreover, the center is actively renovating forest road routes, convenience facilities and information centers. It has provided forest road services for millennials and Generation Z, as well as job opportunities for local residents to be recruited as hiking instructors.

To revitalize the local economy, profits are generated through forest trails and regional cooperation projects. Visitors can enjoy meals and lunch boxes made with locally grown wild edible greens from the forest. Earnings have increased from lodging services and forest road program souvenirs using regional local specialties.

“To keep pace with the big data era, we have been providing comprehensive information on forest roads through our public data portal. We have made available 580,000 pieces of information, including forest roads satisfying the five senses, the Baekdu-daegan courses and the top 100 famous mountains. Individuals can also virtually experience the forest roads through an application,” Chun said.

By Yang Jung-won (7toy@heraldcorp.com)