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Eco-trail opens along North Korean border

Apr 04,2016
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Participants of the Pyeonghwa Nuri Trail Walkathon stroll down the path near the Yulgok Marsh Park in Paju, Gyeonggi, last May. [GYEONGGI TOURISM ORGANIZATION]
For the past 40 years, the idea that you could one day stroll along a trail not more than a few kilometers from the demilitarized zone was inconceivable, not to mention illegal.

But all that changed last January with the opening of the 9.1-kilometer (5.6-mile) eco-trail extending from the Imjingak Pyeonghwa Nuri Park, past the Unification Bridge, Chopyeong Island Observatory, Imjin River Dock Observatory and ending at the Yulgok Marsh Park in Paju, Gyeonggi.

The eco-trail is located beyond the Civilian Control Line established in 1971. The provincial and city governments of Gyeonggi and Paju have been working with Korea’s First Army since 2010 on a deal to open areas within the Civilian Control Zone to the public, and bulldoze the 1-meter-wide military patrol road into a 3-meter-wide trail, a process that has cost a total of 2.3 billion won ($2 million).

Although sections of the eco-trail have been periodically open to public, notably during the one-day Imjin River Festival in 2013, the complete trail was never opened for yearlong use before January this year.

Now, however, the eco-trail is open to the public weekly from Wednesday to Sunday, except on national holidays. Entrance is free of charge, although admission is limited to 150 people per day, with 50 people granted entry every 10 minutes. Tour guides are provided by the Gyeonggi Tourism Organization.

In addition to the unique experience of hiking so near to the border, visitors can also look forward to seeing 400-meter-wide basalt columns, vertical joints of surreal polygonal lava flows that almost seem to have been mechanically constructed.

Imjin River Dock is also famous for the route King Seonjo took in his flight to Uiju, North Pyongan Province, during the 1592 Japanese invasion of Korea. But the 9.1-kilometer eco-trail is not the only sightseeing route offered in the area.

The eco-trail sits next to the DMZ Bicycle Tour route, which begins at Imjingang Station, crosses over Unification Bridge and travels up the road to the Gunnae three-way intersection. From there, if followed, it eventually leads to Kaesong in North Korea. After crossing back over the Unification Bridge, the route leads to the Chopyeong Island Observatory.

Totaling 17.2 kilometers, the DMZ Bicycle Tour is open to cyclists from 1 p.m. on the fourth Sunday of April, May, September and October. The first tour this year took place on March 27. The entrance fee is 10,000 won per person, and entrance is limited to the first 300 who register in advance at www.ggtour.or.kr.

“The DMZ Bicycle Tour, which commenced operations in 2010, presents participants with the unique opportunity to ride along the Imjin River and its pristinely preserved natural beauty, while also witnessing the country’s security issues in real time,” said Hong Jae-gul, a deputy director at the Gyeonggi Tourism Organization, referring to border defense.

This year, the Gyeonggi Tourism Organization is hosting a special walkathon that combines the newly opened eco-trail with a section of the Pyeonghwa Nuri Trail, a 184-kilometer long trail established in 2010 near the DMZ that passes through Gimpo, Goyang, Paju and Yeoncheon of Gyeonggi. The trail was established as a way for people to see some of the preserved nature sights along the demilitarized zone and inspire citizens to work toward peaceful unification.

The 2016 Pyeonghwa Nuri Trail Walkathon combines the 9.1-kilometer eco-trail with the eighth course of the Pyeonghwa Nuri Trail, which stretches 13 kilometers from Yulgok Marsh Park, passing the Hwaseok Pavilion and Mount Jang Observatory and ending at Bangu Pavilion.

The entrance fee is 15,000 won per person, and a set of walking sticks will be handed out to each participant. The event is open to the first 1,000 who register on the official website of the walkathon at www.walkyourdmz.com.

BY JEON ICK-JIN [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]