Monday, July 31, 2017

Revisiting Guanshan's Bicycle Trail

Completed in 1997, Guanshan Bicycle Trail (關山自行車道) was one of the first tourist-oriented bike paths in Taiwan. Its stunning success (a reported 700,000 visitors in 2001) inspired other towns around Taiwan - notably Meinong in Kaohsiung - to create their own bike-tour routes. Judging by the number and size of the bike-rental businesses I saw when passing through the town earlier this year, it still attracts a good number of tourists keen to enjoy the scenery and fresh air while getting a some exercise. 
The 4m-wide bikeway is certainly family-friendly. The first time I was here, my wife and I managed to complete the 15.2km-long circuit without any difficulty, even encumbered by our then-infant son.
The first five photos with this blog post are from our first visit several years ago. With one exception, the second batch is from earlier this year. Nowadays my son has the muscle and stamina to pedal his parents around, instead of the other way around!
A key part of the circuit is the 32-hectare Guanshan Water Park (關山親水公園, pictured below), down by the Beinan River. Some people come here to watch birds or to row a boat. According to this webpage, the patch of land used to a dumping ground. You'd never guess it from its current impressively tidy appearance, and the park certainly deserves some of your time... 
...but you get far better views from the highest part of the bike trail, near the road that leads up past fields of millet and stands of mahogany to the indigenous community of Zhongfu (中福).
Hats are essential, even if the weather isn't so bright you need for sunglasses. From more than one personal experience, I know it's possible to get sunburned through murky cloud.
Guanshan's population is slightly over 8,700 people. In the language of the indigenous Amis people, who are now outnumbered by Taiwanese of Hakka origin, it was known as Kinalaungan. Within the downtown, there's a Police History and Culture Museum (關警史蹟文物館; open Tue-Sun 10-11 and 3-4 only; enter through the police station at 27 Zhongzheng Road; 中正路27號), part of which occupies the original one-story station, built in 1932. Over 200 items are on display but there’s hardly any little English labeling; nonetheless, the riot gear and cells need no explanation. 
Even if the exhibits hold no interest for you, you'll likely agree the garden if a lovely place to relax for a little while. The photo above comes from this Chinese-language blog, where you'll also find more than dozen other excellent images of the police museum.
As in Luye and other popular biking spots in the east, the range of vehicles available for hire includes electrically-powered bikes and three-person pedicab-type carts.
Apart from the occasional eagle high overhead, the most interesting fauna you'll likely see are water buffalo cooling off in the creek at the bottom of the valley.
Where do you go once you've completed the bike trail and you still have time and energy? Whether you're starting from Guanshan or Chishang, it makes sense to push on across the river and then to Wanan Elementary School Zhenxing Branch Campus (萬安國小振興分校) at the 11km marker on Road 197. The campus, just under 6km from Guanshan Railway Station, features indigenous-themed murals and several gorgeous banyan trees. Whether you approach from the north or the south, getting here means a little hill climbing, but there’s almost no traffic on this road. 

This blog post was sponsored by the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area Administration.

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