Friday, December 13, 2013, 09:37
Focus HK: Nature cast in concrete
By Ming Yeung

Focus HK: Nature cast in concrete

There's a stir among nature lovers about a trend that they believe threatens to entwine Mother Nature in a web of concrete. Ming Yeung reports.

On a chilly morning in late November, Nic Tinworth was itching to revisit one of his favorite hiking trails, in Tung Chung on northern Lantau Island.

Tinworth had taken just 16 hours to complete the endurance test along the famous 100 kilometer Oxfam Trailwalker, which was designed originally as a training exercise for Gurkhas. He was still exhausted from the Trailwalker, but the Lantau Island trail, on this sunny day, was practically going to be a stroll.

Accompanying Tinworth was Phillip Forsyth, one of the organizers of Hong Kong Hiking Meetup, which today boasts 9,000 members. The weather was chilly and dry, with barely a cloud in the sky - perfect hiking weather.

The two were in good spirits as they strode uphill briskly, listening to the steady rhythm of their breathing. They stopped occasionally at the lookout points to catch their breath and enjoy the view.

"Isn't it beautiful?" asked Forsyth, inhaling the fresh air. "This view is absolutely worth the climb." He seemed to become completely immersed in his view of the distant hills.

"Arrr" groaned Tinworth as they proceeded on up the hill. The gasp of frustration arose spontaneously as the two men were confronted with the unwelcome site of a poorly constructed concrete staircase. Nature enthusiasts generally don't like the things after walking half an hour along a trail over moss-covered stones and soft mud, leading to the summit.

Tinworth made a pained expression, something like a kid forced to eat the much loathed vegetables on his plate.

"What's wrong with the way they do these stairs is that they just use this one slice of concrete, push it into the ground, fill it up with the natural dirt. What happens when it rains a lot is that the top soils they use to pad it down get washed away. You can see on the top here. It's very easy if you're walking down and catch your foot like that and then you trip," Tinworth explained, lowering one of his knees and showing how easy it is for a hiker or trail runner to trip up on the manmade stairs that are supposed to keep them safe.

"Our daily lives in the office are so unnatural, so busy. So when you come out on the weekends like this is so peaceful and serene," he continued. "So when the government departments decided, for whatever reason, that they should put some concrete in, they made it less enjoyable. There should never be any construction in nature, save the construction for the city."

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) is responsible for trail building and maintenance and has generally overseen country park concrete projects over the years. Often it undertakes projects in the name of "safety" for country park users.

What hiking enthusiasts consider the needless desecration of nature trails and country parks with taxpayer's money, however, is a question that, Tinworth and Forsyth argue, demands proper answers.

An AFCD spokesman said the majority of hiking trails in country parks are dirt trails and boulder tracks. "Erosion" is one main reason for building steps.

"At trail sections where serious soil loss occurs, paving of trail surfaces or the construction of steps is necessary for trail conservation and safety."

In addition to that, district councils also reserve the right to "upgrade" the trails used by villagers who live in the districts. "Paving trails is often required to ensure convenient and safe access for villagers and facilitate transportation of necessities to the villages," the spokesman pointed out.