Eco-tourism, A Diamond in the Rough
With a vibrant ecosystem, wildlife, and Bunun culture, the Danda area is a diamond in the rough waiting for its moment to shine.
Bunun Ancestral Land Witnessed the Rise and Fall of the Forestry Industry
The Danda mountain area is the ancestral land of the Bunun people in the Choshui River Basin. During the era of Japanese rule, the Japanese set up Luanda Logging Forest in the surrounding area. When the Kuomingtang government took over, Danda Logging Forest was established here instead. In 1958, Zhenchang Wood Factory obtained logging rights to 5,000 hectares of land in the area and constructed the Danda Forest Road to transport timber. At the entrance of the forest road, a suspension bridge withstanding 30 tons of cargo was built across Choshui River, where Choshui River and Danda River meet. That location is also the end of present-day Provincial Highway 16. It was named after Sun Hai, the founder of Zhenchang Wood Factory.
Around 1991, the government imposed a logging ban on all primary forests in Taiwan. It seemed like the Danda forest was going to have a chance to recuperate, but loggers leveled the land and planted highland vegetables for selling. The large number of chemical fertilizers they used caused the soil to deteriorate. It took the Forestry Bureau over 20 years to recover the land with the support of the courts, and they began to restore the forest over a decade ago. Unfortunately, reforestation was very difficult due to the poor condition of the soil, damage from wildlife, and the cold.
In 2004, the Seven-Two Floods caused by Typhoon Mindulle destroyed Sun Hai Bridge. At the time, the government announced that the bridge would not be repaired to make Danda an example of land restoration. Thus, Danda Forest Road became isolated from the outside world, giving the forest a chance to recuperate.
Integrate and Promote the Tourism Resources of Four Tribes
As positive results for ecosystem restoration and wildlife recovery started to show, the Forestry Bureau began to think about how to help indigenous lands develop environmentally friendly and responsible eco-tourism experiences with local culture and natural resources. The Bureau hoped that profits made from such tours could improve the local economy and cultural heritage. Besides, the benefits can facilitate sustainable operation models rooted in autonomy, self-governance, and self-regulation as well. In 2016, the Forestry Bureau commissioned the Taiwan Ecotourism Association to teach four Bunun tribes along the shore of Choshui river - namely Dili, Shuanglong, Tannan, and Renhe - how to develop a comprehensive eco-tourism experience. The eco-tourism combination includes how to conduct eco-tourism resource surveys, human resource training for hotels and restaurants, itinerary planning, organization, and human resource structures, and marketing. In 2018, the four villages joined forces to form the Danda Bunun Ecotourism Association as an autonomous development platform for the tribes to market eco-tourism experiences.
The association’s chairman Song Guang-Hui said, “The focus of the association’s work is to integrate B&Bs, camping sites, and restaurants from the four tribes to become the backbone of the association. The association keeps track of resources and plans tours, thereby creating eco-tourism experiences that incorporate the ecology and indigenous culture of this region.” However, said Guang-Hui, after a year of the association’s efforts, they discovered that many tribes already had similar products. In comparison, the tours that the association planned weren’t unique or appealing enough. He said, “When we founded the association, what we did was to bring out everything we had. We sold everything we considered good, but we forgot to consider how competitive our products were on the market. Fortunately, we received help from the Multiple Employment Promoting Program (MEPP) launched by Workforce Development Agency (WDA). According to the mentor’s suggestion, we stepped up the appointment of specialized staff and marketed the region’s unique selling points. Finally, we forged a path of our own, based on the beautiful ecosystem we have.”
Danda has many features, such as the Hunters’ House showcasing Bunun people’s traditional hunting culture, the renowned Bunun singing group Takmazuan Arts Group, and classic dishes made by the tribe’s restaurants. Additionally, there are many exciting sights, such as Catholic churches, elementary schools with impressive architecture, and Catfish Bend. The bend is near Dili Village, where Choshui River makes a 180-degree turn. There is also Jenlun Forest Road, for which the association has received special permission from the Forestry Bureau to conduct tours despite being under regulation.
Construction on the Shuanglong Suspension Bridge is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, said Guang-Hui. It would be an attractive site, but he feels that Danda’s most promising future highlight is Qicai Lake.
Qicai Lake, a Beauty Hidden by Forest Road Control
Qicai Lake sits at the intersection between Nantou’s Xinyi Town and Hualien’s Wanrung Town, nearly 3,000 meters above sea level. Located near Liushunshan, one of the 100 Peaks of Taiwan, Qicai Lake is the second-largest and deepest mountain lake at full water level. Initially, the lake was called Deer Lake or Deer Pond because of the herds of deers drinking from its waters. Later, Lin Wen-An, father of the 100 Peaks of Taiwan, passed by and gave it its current name after seeing the colorful shimmer of dawn light on the lake’s surface. It is the dream lake of many mountaineers. Despite being more accessible, the Nantou route was blocked off due to the damaged Sun Hai Bridge at the entrance of Danda Forest Road and became off-limits due to government restrictions. To see the beauty of Qicai Lake, visitors have to climb the mountain from Hualien’s Wanrung Forest Road. However, it takes three days to get up the hill and another two days to get down. The route is not a popular mountain trail, and so the lake is a hidden sight many want to explore.
Guang-Hui pointed out, “The forest road to Qicai Lake is still closed. What’s worse, road conditions are terrible, but if we have the chance to pull it off, it will be a great sight!” Future designations drawing boundaries between traditional Bunun lands and wildlife conservation areas in the Danda region will have a major influence on the village. He said, “The lands designated as traditional land and wildlife conservation areas might overlap. However, I think that’s good because it might form a protective barrier around the village, and outsiders won’t be able to enter freely. Traditional hunting culture can also be regulated according to these designations and coexist with the forest.”
Each member of the association has undergone at least three years of guidance and training to firmly root ecological concepts. In the future, if they get the opportunity to develop the trail to Qicai Lake, they will drive guests into the forest by car. They hike the rest of the way, making the trip much more accessible than the mountain trail in Hualien. The journey takes about 6 hours from the tribe, passing through uninhabited land and the habitats of many wild animals. As members of the association are familiar with animals’ habits, they can delight visitors with wildlife sightings. Of course, hunting will be prohibited in the area.
We Can Only Rely on Ourselves to Bridge the Gap of Different Travel Styles
Around 2015, Danda was added to the jurisdiction of the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Administration, which has actively promoted eco-tourism in the area over the past few years. It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to drive from Sun Moon Lake’s Ita Thao Pier to Dili Village, and just 10 minutes to Tannan. However, the two sides differ too much in travel style, making it hard to connect the two. Guang-Hui said, “We can only accommodate one large tour bus at a time. More than 30 to 40 people at once would overwhelm the tribe. We cannot accommodate a large number of visitors like Sun Moon Lake can.”
Currently, the association’s platform has integrated the resources of four tribes. If all campsites and B&Bs are at full capacity, the area can accommodate 200 to 300 people at best. The area’s natural environment is a hit giving local businesses the chance to maintain a specific performance. Nevertheless, the association struggles to operate since the costs of integrating resources via the platform are quite high. Founded for a year, the association has currently recruited four staff and one project manager with subsidies from MEPP. The project has not only given the association a big hand in human resources at its early stage but also provided job opportunities for the unemployed. The project’s consultation team has also helped the association plan various tours. If operations are successful, the association hopes to apply for an economic program next year. That will give the association pressure to deliver profitable performance, but it hopes to work hard and achieve its goal of self-sustainability. “The highlight here is eco-tours. We must find ways to make a profit to keep the platform alive. In the future, we have to rethink our tours and prices to make the most of our integrated platform,” Guang-Hui said confidently. The blueprint in his mind is gradually taking shape.
▲The Danda Bunun Ecotourism Association plans to develop eco-tours in the ancestral lands of the Bunun people and hopes to introduce Bunun culture to visitors from around the world.
▲Danda has unique ecological and cultural landscapes with great potential for tourism development.
▲The eco-tours organized by Danda Bunun Ecotourism Association are very popular.
Case Story - Multiple Employment Promoting Program
Guang-Hui - Danda Bunun Ecotourism Association
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Please attribute this article to “Workforce Development Agency, Ministry Of Labor.”