We can make better use of our country parks

Suitable development, carried out in a measured way and with due regard for the environment, can benefit our city

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 April, 2017, 2:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 April, 2017, 2:16am

As we gear up for the 20th anniversary of reunification with the mainland, Hong Kong also is celebrating another milestone. We are talking about the 40th anniversary of our beloved country parks. Designated as early as 1977, the earliest sites are now twice as old as the special administrative region.

Accompanying a series of celebrations is a HK$2.6 million consultancy study to enhance the recreational and educational value of our country parks. This includes expanding facilities for camping, trail running and mountain biking. Activities like grass skating, zip-lining and tree climbing may also be introduced. The findings are expected to be released for public consultation by mid-2018.

The government is to be commended for broaching the sensitive subject. Currently, our 22 country parks and 22 special green sites take up 40 per cent of the territory. These lush green areas are one of the city’s most valuable treasures, and are visited by locals and tourists in the millions each year. But activities are mainly confined to hiking and camping, leaving much of the parks’ potential unexplored. Changing recreational trends also means some facilities, such as barbecue sites, are no longer as popular as they used to be. The consultants will look into ways to convert some areas and to explore the feasibility of adding other activities.

New study floats fresh ideas to add value and visitors to Hong Kong’s country parks

There are those who have taken the extreme view of opposing any form of man-made development in country parks. The government has raised eyebrows further by also selling the idea of turning some country park areas into public housing. Although the environment chief pledged not to include housing development in this study, it would not be surprising if some nature lovers suspect the government is enhancing recreational facilities in some areas to smooth resistance against housing development elsewhere.

While our country parks deserve better conservation, it does not mean they are off limits to suitable development. As long as it is carried out in a measured way and with due regard for the environment, there is no reason why we cannot make better use of these assets. Finding the right approach and balance is the key.