Concreting of natural trail halted amid hikers' uproar
Work on path brought to a standstill following complaints.
The government has halted concreting work on a footpath at the last leg of the Hong Kong Trail near Big Wave Bay Village, in Shek O, following sustained pressure and complaints from hikers.
According to the Southern District Office, the HK$336,000 repaving work has been suspended pending further consideration.
The project, which began on November 19 and was scheduled to be completed on February 29, was to pave a 99-metre stretch of the 8.5km Hong Kong Trail Stage 8.
The work involves mainly the construction of concrete steps and landings with a stone finish, a number of covered channels along the path, and erection of railings.
A written reply from the Southern District Office stated that the 'improvement works' had taken place following complaints by local residents in 2006 about mud and debris flowing down from the footpath to Big Wave Bay Village after heavy rain, causing 'environmental and safety hazards'.
In May last year, village representatives made no objections during consultations, and the project was therefore approved, a district office spokeswoman said.
Nevertheless, George Christofis and many others among the city's hiking community are angered by the recent construction work.
'Concrete, government and money. When you put these three together, terrible things happen,' said Mr Christofis, an avid hiker who is distraught over the increasing number of natural trails being covered in cement.
'They may have stopped today, but we have no guarantees that work [on the cement steps] will not continue in the future,' he said.
Chan Kwok-keung, a winner of Oxfam Trailwalker competitions in New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong, knows the benefits of hiking on natural trails.
'Walking on uneven surfaces is immensely beneficial to developing the often unused stabilising muscles in the leg, while walking on concrete hurts the joints because the material does not absorb the pressure as well, in comparison to natural rocky terrain,' Mr Chan argued.
Environmentalists are also frustrated by the repaving project, saying the government is turning Hong Kong into a 'city park'.
Peter Li Siu-man, campaign manager of the Conservancy Association, said: 'It is a very bad idea, as what is important about country parks is the wild nature. But concreting the footpaths, however, makes it hard to blend into the nature.'
He added that it would be better if the section was repaved completely with rocks.
'The advantage of using rocks is there are gaps between the rocks, which can allow small plants to grow or insects to crawl,' Mr Li said.
It is not just hikers who share the view that the construction of cement steps is damaging Hong Kong's trails.
Singaporean tourist Sujata Kamakrishna also lamented the loss of natural beauty wrought by the construction work, saying: 'I think it's a shame that Hong Kong is concreting up these beautiful trails, which are invaluable resources.
'If this continues, next time I visit I won't have anything to look forward to.'