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Hallasan National Park and man's best friendInconsistencies in dog regulations cause confusion and inconvenience
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승인 2011.03.11  19:07:29
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▲ Daniel McNamee and his dog Disaronno at Gwanmneusa trail, Mt. Halla. Photo by Daniel McNamee

Editor’s note: This opinion piece was written late last year. - Ed.

Just after six o’clock on a Saturday morning I found myself being denied access to the Gwamneusa trail at Hallasan National Park. I was told it was because I had brought my dog. I could not understand what the rationale could be for such a rule. After considering paying the guard 10,000 won to look the other way, I walked down the street and snuck back onto the trail.

I wasn’t going to have my Friday night wasted (including paid cab fare) just to walk away, especially considering I had already walked the trail with my dog earlier that year. For a good six hours I tried to guess at why it was that dogs were not allowed. I thought that it might be something to do with the minority of Koreans who are scared of dogs.

After some research I found a small note regarding pets on the park’s Web site under the climbing instructions section: “Do not bring pets to the park, as they might have an adverse effect on the ecology and/or park environment.” At first I was rather upset because this reasoning seemed ridiculous. I looked into other national parks to see if such dog discrimination existed elsewhere and was surprised by what I found. Though all national and provincial parks in my home country of Canada allow pets, as long as they are leashed, many parks in the United States do not. National parks in the U.S. offer different explanations, but a common one involves dogs affecting the local ecology by interaction with animals and marking their territory.

Dogs have been allowed in Canadian parks for years, and their ecosystems are still in great shape. The argument that dogs adversely affect the park ecology appears to be flawed. I feel like the regulations in place have more to do with dog owners not picking up after their animals than anything else. Man’s most common hiking companion is apparently not allowed on trails because some people cannot pick up after their pets. It is a disgrace to dog owners that the park has felt the need to resort to such measures as this to maintain a clean environment.

Though some irresponsible people are at least partially to blame for the dog issue, Hallasan National Park has not responded in the best way either. To begin with, there are no signs pointing to the fact that dogs are not allowed. Even the reference to pets on the Web site is found in between hiking safety tips like “wear proper shoes” and “bring plenty of water.” Not the place I would expect to find a regulation which has nothing to do with safety at Mt. Halla. A sign would have alerted me to the fact that dogs are prohibited, and I might have ignored my instinct to bring a dog on a long walk the next time I came. Making the rules clear allows for enforcement to be a little friendlier as it is not a surprise for someone as it was for me.

When I called to ask about why dogs are not allowed I was not given a reasonable answer. Some tried to feed me the park ecology explanation, and another person even told me it was a requirement to becoming a designated UNESCO heritage site, which was not the case. When The Jeju Weekly contacted Hallasan National Park to ask for an explanation, they were given a more accurate answer. They were told that as a result of article 26 of the Enforcement Decree of the Natural Parks Act, dogs were prohibited in all national parks.

Being the diligent and persistent individual that I am, I looked up the law on a very useful reference site. The Korean Legislative Research Institute’s Web site has translations of nearly all Korean laws and the translations are very well written. The article in question only refers to park management being permitted to ban dogs if they feel the need. If the translation is correct, the response from Hallasan National Park was very weak in that it did not answer the question of why dogs are considered to be a threat to the ecosystem.

Furthermore, I felt like the staff were very unfriendly when I arrived with a dog. It was as if I had personally offended them by choosing to disobey the regulation. Another unfriendly moment, which left a really sour taste in my mouth, was being shouted at on a megaphone as soon as I got to the top with the dog. I was ushered away and forced to start climbing down after I had climbed for three hours straight to the top of the mountain.

Some may say that I should not have broken the rules and that I deserved it. Well, by that thinking all the people eating lunch on the top should also have been forced to descend without even so much as a break because, “Eating meals is not allowed at the summit.” There are also many hikers smoking and cooking lunch on the trails and both of these activities are prohibited yet seemingly tolerated.

Another point of contention that I have is regarding the lack of a kennel where I could have had the option of leaving the dog. Though most national parks in the U.S. do not allow dogs many do provide kennels where a dog could be kept during the day. The availability of some kind of second option for people who have brought a dog with them seems like a necessity if a park intends to ban dogs. Not at Halla I guess.

Hallasan National Park is by far the most beautiful part of Jeju Island. However, the regulations have soured the memory for me somewhat. The park management should do more to inform dog owners of the ban on dogs so that people are not put in an awkward position. They should also reconsider banning lunch on the summit. Perhaps one day the regulations will receive an overhaul and good sense will prevail.

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