Do you know that bit in Lord of the Rings when Saruman the White Wizzard turns out to be evil and in cahoots with Sauron, smacks Gandalf the Grey around and later cuts down a shitload of Middle Earth's trees for his own gain?
Well, the evil wizard is you, Sauron represents all those land-grabbing profit mongers, Gandalf is the outdoor/ hiking/ running/ biking community and Middle Earth represents all country parks in Hong Kong.
With a welcoming and open community like that, it was easy to become part of it no matter if you were a beginner or a seasoned ultra-marathon runner. And with the social pull of their events and gatherings even outdoor newbies were bound to become more stronger and faster. There is something truly empowering about being able to climb the Twins when few month ago walking up the escalators from Sheung Wan Station to Central Station would make your lungs cry.
Competitions like races are huge motivators to keep it up.The more fun the races the more motivation there is to stay in shape. And adventure races are so much fun
But you think you enforce that by putting a cap on night time races, forbidding off-trail race routes through streams, gorges, and gullies, And then you ban adventure racing altogether, no longer issuing race permits. The Action Asia Race in Discovery Bay at the end of April could be the last adventure race in Hong Kong.
What's with the radical red taping? Couldn't you have communicated with people first before you started draining the pool of life's joys. To the long list of Hong Kong Outdoor-No's (no dogs, no ball playing, no kite flying on beach, no biking, no roller skating, no frisbee throwing in parks) we can now add no adventure racing in country parks.
Your stringent regulations will not only affect adventure races but other popular night races which stick to the trails like Moontrekker as well. Lantau Base Camp had to already shift its Stairmaster race series to the day time. Again you say you want to reduce the disturbance to wildlife and residents, and also quote the runners safety as your concern.
See... your statements and past actions don't always align, I'm starting to fear that you don't know sh... jack. It's not the first time concerns were raised that you were "out of touch" on how to deal with HK's country parks. Let's have a look at your issues:
- You're concerned for the flora
I get that. Nature needs space and time to recover. Can't this be done without being the enemy of adventure and fun? Nature is very resilient: Two times a year when it's grave sweeping time throngs of people including a bunch of my inlaws climb up a hill, armed with saws, hoes, knives, brooms to clean up their ancestors' graves. For hours, they toil to cut down small trees, remove overhanging branches and foliage, pull out weeds and scrub moss from the tombstones. Guess what happens after few weeks? The whole shit grows back again! If nature can recover from that it should be able to recover from groups of racers who themselves are pretty much nature-loving and not actively trying to uproot baby trees. Do you have any data on the impact of the races? Is there anything the organisers can do to enforce forest friendly behaviour except from tree-hugging?
- You want to reduce disturbance to wildlife
Yes, night-time runs can temporarily annoy animals. During a night race I had a bugged out monkey throw -what I still hope were a handful of berries at me when I ran by. Once the race is over, everything goes back to normal. But you did stuff that caused permanent disturbance or even damage. Several sections of nature technical trails have been turned into concrete paths. You build unnecessary concrete or stone stairs on technical trails claiming that families with kids and elderly will be able to enjoy those trails as well. Newsflash: Even with all your concrete assistance they won't use those trails because many of those trails are secluded and still very hilly. Even more experienced hikers have to plan for supply points or carry the equivalent of a small aquarium of water. Concrete stairs a lovely stroll does not make.
Then there are government officials, some working for you and other hotshots who want to build country houses or mini villas in Sai Kung Park's enclaves which will cause major ecological damage to wildlife's habitat. Who's the disturbance now?
- You have safety concerns
What makes adventure races fun are the unusual and often challenging courses, being off-trail, running through the night, completing unconventional tasks like jumping from a junk boat. The element of risk is always part of an adventure. It makes you want to yell "wohoo" and pump your fist. You say people can get hurt at night and are difficult to retrieve and rescue. But risks like that can be monitored and handled. It's the event organisers' responsibility to have certain fail-safes in place, like making participants wear helmets and/ or have enough volunteers around. If event organisers cannot guarantee those security measures then you can refuse them the race permit. Race organisers had a good security track record so far safe for a few cases of sprained ankles and mild dehydration. A party girl wearing 10 inch heels, walking down Lan Kwai Fong is more likely to get hurt than a runner trekking through a river bed. And that poor chick won't even get a helmet from the bar she staggered out from. Give the organisers a realistic safety baseline which can are acceptable to your requirements but won't kill all the fun.
- You don't want the general public be disturbed by too many race events.
I dare say hikers and runners a part of the general public. But ok, you do not want a race invasion on trails displacing all the casual hikers. That is why many races are on technical and more secluded terrains. There are certain hills only a hardcore hiker or runner could love. Allowing races during the night would leave more time for "normal" people to frolic on the trails during the daytime especially on weekends. Why not figure out how many races are sustainable on the trails and won't have a long-lasting impact on the country parks instead of forbidding all the races?
Collaborating with the outdoor community and the event organizers requires work. But you can start by talking things out and establishing ground rules. Those folks would be happy to work things out with you. With a bit of leeway and collaboration from both sides, all your concerns can be addressed unless you have hidden issues you don't want to talk about or just can't be bothered with the needs of others. Then you're indeed an evil wizard.
But if you care for the wellbeing of the public, don't let Hong Kong become the mediocre land of promotions and pencil pushers. Stop being a meanie. Come out of your tower and negotiate, so some outdoor joy can be returned to the people.