▲ Jeolmul Natural Recreational Forest, located In Bonggae-dong, Jocheon-eup, recently added another walking trail. Left, Photo by Yang Ho Geun, right, Photo by Darren Southcott
There are umpteen opportunities for nature lovers to enjoy on Jeju so Jeolmul Natural Recreational Forest cannot rest on its laurels if it is to remain at the top of visitors’ itineraries. By opening an additional hiking course it hopes to maintain its privileged position.
Located in Bonggae-dong, Jocheon-eup, the forest billed as Korea’s number one recreational forest is reached along Route 97 and entrance costs 1,000 won. The new course adds to a number already in use and constitutes a peaceful complement to the educational and student-centred focus of the forest.
The forest clearly aims to attract families and students with picnic benches and adven-ture playgrounds throughout. The visitor hoping for an intimate experience with nature might be disappointed, but there are added quirks to quell any wilderness lover’s disquiet.
The oreum upon which the forest thrives, Jeolmul, rises to 697 meters, ringed by towering Japanese cedar and black pine trees, creating a natural amphitheatre within which the crow and thrush are protagonists. When combined with the scent of fresh ferns and pine it is easy to appreciate the garden-like forest.
As one moves deeper into the park, weaving through the occasional multi-colored children’s playground, guest-houses reveal themselves through the dappling shadows. With names such as Maximo-wiczia and Mountain Berries, the accommodations invite a closer experience with nature.
Open-planned rooms with bright French windows are a treat for dawn and dusk and with prices starting from 40,000 won, they don’t hit the wallet too hard. There is even a fully-equipped study room and the barefoot pebbled path invites and perturbs in equal measure.
The forest itself is enchanting and fleeting fauna are sensed all around, but rarely glimpsed. The ascending path is pleasant and at the oreum-top spring is ablaze with bees and butterflies in their element. Hay fever sufferers beware. The panoramic and airy summit view is a welcome sinus-relieving reward.
▲ Photo by Yang Ho Geun
As one descends, the gaggle of elementary school students increases as they follow teachers pied piper-like through the trees. The momentary quiet of the oreum summit is short-lived.
Another quirk of the forest is the presence of carved wooden dolhareubang totems. Rising up in seeming emulation of the trees, their gurning faces add appreciated humor to the forest. Sometimes happy, other times sad or crazy, these far from conventional stone, or wood, grandfathers complement the natural timbers well. The combination pleases visitors, as a lone tourist expressed.
“I came alone, but I would recommend bringing family and friends,” Kim Hee Yyeol of Seoul said. “This is a place to be appreciated over time with the many activities and features on offer.”
Well-being is central to the appeal of the forest and the spring water is claimed to be the best in Jeju, according to the promotional literature. It invited the establishment of a temple (jeol) in days gone by, which gave the forest its name. Visitors can judge its qualities for themselves as it welcomes hikers on ascent or descent from the oreum.
The newly-opened path, which winds around the west of the forest, provides respite from the playgrounds of the central area. Named after the Jeju dialect word for birdsong, Sang-i Sorijil, this more aesthetically pleasing trail will suit those visitors seeking a closer exchange with nature.
“We were pleased with the new trail as it was slightly quieter from the other trails, which had many visiting students. It was refreshing,” said Oh Seung Keun, a Jeju resident.
Jeolmul Natural Recreational Forest is a mixture of the natural and the artificial, including the trees. About 200 hectares of trees were transplanted by hand with the remaining 100 hectares being natural growth forest. Even the wooden dolhareubang relate a mixture of tradition and irreverence to the visitor.
The fusion of play and nature, ßeducation and enjoyment might not sit well with all visitors, but it is something the forest does well. For all the laughter of children on the forest floor, there is the singing of birds on the oreum and this mixture makes for a unique experience. Jeolmul Natural Recreational Forest has probably earned its right to be billed as Korea’s number one.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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