Oxfam Trailwalker hiking event blocked by village protest
Runners in Trailwalker fundraiser find they have to turn back as the route is hastily diverted
Shirley Zhao and Jennifer Ngo
Thousands of charity hikers found themselves running into an unexpected dead end just half an hour after this year's Oxfam Trailwalker kicked off yesterday.
About 100 residents of Sai Wan village in east Sai Kung and their supporters blocked off part of the hiking path leading into the village, where the first checkpoint for the 4,800 trailwalkers was set up, forcing Oxfam to hurriedly change the route for the event.
Villagers claimed part of the blocked path was private and they were closing it in protest against the government's plan to include the picturesque enclave in the country park system.
But Oxfam complained that they were not told of the change of plan.
The 100-kilometre Trailwalker hike winds through the east-west MacLehose Trail across the whole Kowloon peninsula, with nine checkpoints dotted along the route.
With Sai Wan village now inaccessible, the organiser had to inform all racers to bypass it and head directly to the second checkpoint.
"It's such a pity," said executive councillor Bernard Chan, who also chairs the Oxfam Trailwalker Advisory Committee. "We regret that the villagers didn't inform us earlier."
According to Matthew Wong Wai-man, head of the Sai Wan checkpoint, when he arrived around 8am yesterday to prepare the station, there was a large group of villagers gathering, but no one told him what was going to happen.
The organisation was in the dark until the two fastest teams reached the blocked path around 9.30am, turned back and informed the staff along the route, said Wong.
Village chief Lai Yan said they were not against Oxfam, but the government. They wanted to let people know that although hikers had been walking through the village for decades, villagers had the right to block off the private path.
He worried that if the enclave were included in the country park, stricter rules would make approval for applications to build village houses more difficult.
"The government has been trying to kill our village by surrounding it with country park areas," said Lai. "How can we prosper with no road, no public transport and no new houses?"
But Paul Zimmerman, the co-convenor of the Save Our Country Parks alliance, said villagers just wanted more compensation or the chance to build as many village houses as possible, which was a "detrimental form of development" due to their random locations and inadequate design. "Basically they want the money," he said.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said the government's plan would not affect property ownership in the village, and there were clear guidelines to help villagers to apply for building homes.
The winning team, Columbia S1, took 10 hours and 58 minutes to finish. Last year the winners took 11 hours and 12 minutes.