Concrete jungles not needed on rural trails

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2008, 12:00am

Urban areas in Hong Kong have, with good reason, often been described as concrete jungles. Fortunately, our large country parks and extensive trails offer scenic open spaces to give us relief from the city's claustrophobic environment. Sadly, however, there is no escape from drab concrete paths on many country trails whose natural scenic look is often ruined as a result.

The concreting is done with good intentions - to make the paths safer and more accessible. Officials, therefore, often describe the paving of country trails as 'improvement works'. But this is not always a valid description. There is a tendency to pave more than is necessary. The latest case involves a scenic 8.5km footpath that is part of the Hong Kong Trail in Big Wave Bay, Shek O.

Some hikers claim there is no need to pave the path, as it is safe in its natural state. Officials say they have poured concrete over only a section of the trail, which is necessary to prevent rocks from falling onto a nearby village. They also say that while seasoned hikers will have no trouble navigating the natural path, weekend visitors including children and the elderly may prefer a paved one. Work has been halted temporarily because of the complaints.

The latest outcry is similar to the one in November in which a concern group complained that a century-old trail built with granite stones in Western was paved over. Many footpaths in Sai Kung Country Park have also been similarly paved, as have others on Lantau. Officials must ensure hikers and park visitors are safe on their trips, but also need to preserve natural beauty.

Some years ago, the government sprayed 'shotcrete' on slopes across Hong Kong in an attempt to stabilise them, destroying vegetation and ruining the scenery. Many slopes did not need it. The ensuing furore forced slope engineers to reduce the use of shotcrete. Slopes, for example, can be stabilised by planting grass and preserving vegetation on them. Park managers should aim to preserve the natural character of country trails. In cases where they need to be paved, care must be taken to minimise the adverse impact. We don't want to make concrete jungles out of our trails.