|Camping vans and cars fill a camping ground in Gokseong County, South Jeolla Province, in this July 26, 2020 photo. Yonhap|
Local governments troubled by poorly mannered campers
By Bahk Eun-ji
Camping has been gaining in popularity, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is an activity in which people can enjoy nature in a quiet space while minimizing contact with others.
While people usually enjoy camping with tents at designated campsites, many also choose auto camping, called "chabak" in Korean, which translates to, "spending the night in one's car."
The number of campsites in Korea has increased from 1,851 to 2,760, as of July of this year, according to the Korea Tourism Organization. The number of camping cars registered with the transport ministry also increased from 3,325 in 2019, to 5,610 in 2020, and that of trailers from 10,783 in 2019, to 17,979 in 2020.
However, this trend has grown without a corresponding increase in civic awareness concerning camping etiquette and relevant laws, resulting in problems such as environmental damage and safety issues. Local governments, which manage tourist attractions famous for camping, are deeply troubled by the series of complaints from residents due to traffic jams, noise and piles of trash campers leave behind.
Some local governments are even considering closing some popular campsites.
Mongdol Beach in Ulsan has recently seen an increasing number of campers, including chabak campers, not only on weekends but also on weekdays.
In particular, during holiday periods, the number of campers rises significantly, and the amount of garbage they leave behind also increases two to three times the usual amount.
Residents of nearby areas are also complaining about the vast amount of litter left behind by campers and the noises they make while they revel on the beach until late at night.
|A camping van gets water from a public restroom in Mount Seorak National Park in Sokcho, Gangwon Province, in this Aug. 5 photo. Courtesy of the Sokcho City Government|
In this regard, the district office of Ulsan Buk-gu, where Mongdol Beach is located, dispatched 12 staff members to clean up trash and guide campers to follow the etiquette and rules at the campsite during the weekdays, but they do not work on weekends, so they fail to prevent garbage from piling up in large quantities.
"There are no plans to increase the number of staff to clean up the trash, or install CCTV cameras, due to budget shortfalls," an official from the Buk-gu Office said. "Even though we are taking measures, such as hanging up banners telling people not to dispose of their litter at the campsites, it is difficult to solve the problem fundamentally without the active cooperation of the campers," he said.
The coastline along Homi Cape in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, has also seen campers illegally disposing of garbage there.
Pohang's coastal trail has a reputation as a marine tourist destination with well-established Yeongildae, Chilpo, Wolpo, and Guryongpo beaches along the 204 kilometers of coastline.
However, the Pohang City Government is experiencing similar trouble with garbage being thrown on its beaches, creating a stench, along with excessive noise.
The situation is similar in the famous camping areas of Gangwon Province.
The Sokcho City Government has suffered from damage from some poorly mannered campers at the public parking lot of Mount Seorak National Park. They have been using the tap water of the public restrooms there for their camping vans' water supplies, or stealing electricity for charging, as well as leaving piles of garbage and food waste.
The city government temporarily closed two of four public restrooms in the public parking lot where complaints were frequently reported, after concluding that the public parking lot restrooms were not being used for their original purposes.
Some local governments are coming up with measures to minimize the inconveniences to local residents without stopping campers from using local facilities.
The city government of Chungju, North Chungcheon Province, put up a sign at the entrance to a 9,917-square-meter gravel field along the Dalcheon River, to divide the area into camping and temporary parking areas. In the latter, a notice saying, "No car camping," was put up.
It also set up a temporary garbage collection space as well as sinks for rinsing recyclable items along nearby roads. The city government provided 20 million won in public funds for installing these facilities.
The Chungju City Government said that it will not ban car camping, because it believes that the campers help invigorate the local economy.
According to big data analysis on mobile phone use in Chungju, 35,018 people visited it in May alone to enjoy camping. Of these, 38 percent, or 13,300 people, visited downtown Chungju.
"Some of the campers go grocery shopping in the town, so if we ban the campers, it will also affect the local economy," said an official from the city's tourism marketing team.
However, Chungju has been limiting the number of vehicles to 120 per day since July in order to solve traffic jam concerns, as previously, an average of 400 cars had been visiting there on weekends.