The hiking season will soon be upon us again as the weather cools. What sets this one apart is that the Covid-19 travel curbs have popularised domestic tourism and particularly our country park trails. Hiking is gaining new enthusiasts. That is good for them if they are fit and healthy and do not attempt walks beyond their ability or experience, especially without companions.
It does no harm either to the city’s easily accessible network of country parks, so long as visitors are environmentally sensitive to the city’s flora and fauna, which still thrives in the parks amid dense urban development.
There is a seemingly infinite variety that depends on respect for habitats for survival. A case in point has emerged in the annual survey of the city’s diverse array of butterfly species by Green Power, which prompted it to warn against “bad behaviour” around spots popular with the insects.
Warm temperatures have contributed to an explosion in the butterfly population and extra visitors could disturb their habitats. Crowds widen hiking trails, stray from them for photo opportunities and dump rubbish, destroying plant cover that provides food for the butterflies. Country parks are a crowded city’s lungs and worthy of being compared with its harbour as one of its greatest natural assets.
If a reminder were needed that visitors need to care for themselves as well as the environment, a sad one came with the discovery at the foot of a 50-metre slope of the body of a former Hong Kong banker, 59, who failed to return from a walk on his own.
Another came at the end of the spring hiking season with news that fire service rescuers went to the aid of nearly three times as many hikers in Hong Kong country parks in the first four months of the year than in the same period in 2020, and three times as many were hurt.
The virus that disrupted social life drives novice hikers onto the city’s trails to explore open spaces they may have never otherwise experienced. Four people died during that period, including a young man found on a slope well away from the regular trail.
If the past is any guide, we can also expect hikers to turn scenic spots into rubbish dumps for cleaners to attend to this autumn. Note to hikers: Two things not to forget: a sense of self-preservation, and a sense of civic duty. Stay safe, and keep all of Hong Kong clean.