Towards an ideal country park infrastructure: Assets, facilities and services Physical infrastructure
- Paths: footpath network for all seasons and all weather = an access system + a safety back-up network (There are at least 615 km of foot paths in country parks).
- Hiking, tramping, cross-country walking trails: most appear on topographic maps and several excellent books e.g. Yang et al. (2002); Owen and Shaw (2001), Owen and Shaw (2007); Stokes (2000) give trail details and lots of environmental information and instructions on how to travel to and from these country parks. In my assessment the best book for biodiversity or natural infrastructural assets, is the colourful, photogenic New Viewpoints, Country Parks in Focus book by Yang, Ngar and Lock – all are (or were) officers of the AFCD.
- Nature trails: these are walks with a purpose. The purpose is varied reflecting the landscape and nature diversity we have mentioned earlier. These trails are decorated with stations
where site interpretation and explanation plates are installed. These plates provide information on flora, fauna, landforms and, where relevant, cultural or historic features in country
parks. Here are some examples:
- In Sai Kung East Country Park a detailed metal plate illustrates the panorama of hills and islands looking south west from High Island Dam towards Pak A and Pak Lap and Town, Bluff and Basalt Islands in the sparkling coastal waters near the entrance to Port Shelter.
- Pak Sin Leng Nature Trail is 44 km long and allows you to appreciate a spectacular escarpment, dynamic landscapes (landslides and nature repairing landslides with vegetation), Plover Cover Reservoir, sedimentary rocks and active conservation or afforestation.
- Country Park Visitor Centre (CPVC): We have mentioned the Pak Tam Chung VC and its informative displays of geological history, coastal features, rock types and conservation activities. There are many others such as Tai Mo Shan VC and Tai Mei Tuk VC.
- Nature education, organic farming, plant displays and combined eco-geo centres. Yes this sounds too good to be true. But there is one; the Lions Nature Education Centre (LNEC). Located at Tsui Hang, Sai Kung this centre occupies 16.5 ha and provides an excellent menu of natural assets all designed with enjoyment and outdoors education in mind. The LNEC has:
- exhibition halls
- field displays
- herbal gardens
- vegetable demonstration gardens.
- an arboretum
- fruit trees
- dragonfly ponds
- a bamboo grove
- a nature trail
- a rock and mineral corner with quartzite, granite, chlorite, fluorite, muscovite, feldspar, marble, magnetite and serpentine.
- Conduct afforestation programmes to repair eroded slopes and prevent further erosion (a result of extreme weather events such as typhoon loads of heavy rain over short time periods.) Use appropriate exotic and where possible native tree and shrub species to re-vegetate degraded sites.
- Mitigate and prevent unwanted fires. Fire has been one of the worst threats to ecological habitats in country parks (Jim and Wong 2006). Fire-fighting teams on short stand-by duties are essential infrastructural items. In the longer term, education of park users (the public mostly) to avoid unwanted fires associated with sensitive cultural activities (grave site visits) and behaviour at BBQ sites can bring success and has: before 1985 there were ~300 hill fires per year. Recently (e.g. 2003) the number has been reduced to less than 70 (Jim and Wong 2006).
- Control of invasive species The biggest concerns come from plants and one of the worst invaders – enemies of country parks – is the aggressive, exotic, climbing weed, Mikania micrantha. (Please visit the AFCD website and look for AFCON 21/2 which is Nature Conservation Practice Note aimed to help you (and any other keen conservation action person!) to clear and control Mikania.) Recently, an unwanted animal invader has won AFCD attention. It is the red fire ant; this ant is an aggressive eco-warrior of the nasty kind.
- As you have seen already, the AFCD has published many informative and attractive books about the countryside.
- Numerous excellent maps are available. Those in the countryside series using a scale of 1:25,000 (i.e. 1cm on the map = 25,000 cm on the countryside) are ideal for countryside tourism.
- AFCD webpages are extensive and impressive which has several cross-links to publications and other pools of information).
Dream list (wish list)
- AFCD ecotour leaders available on a 'dial-a-guide' service, with one ecotour leader (ETL) available for every group of 10 tourists.
- AFCD holiday homes – some government managed and locally owned or village owned holiday retreats, all managed using alternative energy sources and environmentally friendly waste disposal/re-cycling infrastructures.
- Outdoor-education centres in former, now empty remote schools e.g. there is a disused former village primary school at a prime tourist location near Sha Kiu Village, Leung Shuen Wan (High Island), Sai Kung. This would be an ideal outdoor-education centre or outdoor conservation research centre. You could visit this and make a proposal to the government to invite OUHK to manage an outdoor conservation research centre here: good idea?!