Forest park a man-made triumph

Updated:Jul 24,2019 10:49 AM chinadaily.com.cn

Three times the size of New York's Central Park and created by villagers planting tens of thousands of saplings, Binhu National Forest Park is a testament to ingenuity and persistence.

The government of Hefei, Anhui province, oversaw turning abandoned farmland into a massive forest park, and the results have seen it become a popular tourist spot.

"The park, with more than 95 percent of the trees being poplars, is a man-made forest in the city, and the only pure man-made one among the country's hundreds of national forest parks as far as I know," said Xu Lihu, former head of the Agriculture, Forestry and Water Resources Bureau of Baohe District, which oversees the forest.

Binhu National Forest Park, which extends nearly 11 square kilometers, is located on the northeastern bank of Chaohu Lake, south of Hefei. In summer, thousands of locals visit the park every day to enjoy the fresh air and cool forest surrounds. Admission is free, but tickets have to bought for a ride on a train which traverses 5 km of the massive park. "The area was once a headache for the local government, but it is now the pride of the whole city," Xu said.

In 1999, a businessman rented a large part of what is now the park area from villagers in Yicheng township to breed crabs. His workers dug many ponds and ditches in the rice fields.

But three years later, the venture failed and the businessman fled without rehabilitating the ground, which had become unsuitable for growing crops. "Recovering the land would be too costly," said Xu of the businessman's decision.

Also starting in 1999 was a national pilot program to return grain plots to forest land in Hebei, Henan and Shanxi provinces. The trial was successful, and in 2002 authorities decided to expand the project nationwide. "We seized this opportunity to solve the problem of the abandoned crab farm," Xu said.

The government persuaded villagers to plant poplars in the area, promising to not only cover the costs of the saplings, but also offering them subsidies, which have been raised to about 1,000 yuan for every 1,000 square meters planted over the years.

The planting continued year after year. "Now there are more than 1 million trees in the park," said Fang Biao, general manager of the State-owned company that runs the park.

Xu said that in 2012, a group of municipal government officials passed by the area as they returned from a business trip and saw the thriving forest, who has witnessed the park's development over the years. "The officials proposed building some necessary infrastructure inside the forest so that city residents could find a pleasant place to visit," he said.

The construction was not difficult and the government responded rapidly to the proposal. In August 2012, construction for the forest park started and the park opened later that year.

Roads, tracks, the rail line and tourist centers and kiosks have sprung up in the park along with bicycle rental sites and tourist rides. In 2014, the State Forestry Administration listed the park as a national forest park. Two years later, the National Tourism Administration listed it as a 4A-level tourism zone, the second-highest level among the country's tourism attractions.