With all the natural beauty Haba Snow Mountain (哈巴雪山) has to offer, how about establishing an eco-park to protect the region? It is already a reality, for several decades in fact. In the fall of 2019, posters went up in Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡) and surrounding locales, proclaiming “Haba Snow Mountain Provincial Nature Reserve” (哈巴雪山省级自然保护区). Qiaotou Town (桥头镇) serves as park headquarters. The park was initially established way back in 1984.
Recent action by park management saw all mining operations in the area shut down—permanently according to reports. This includes a mine in the Jizhi Valley (鸡枝山谷) west of the mountain and the vast tungsten mine (钨矿) in Tiger Leaping Gorge just above Bendiwan Village (本地湾村) that had been operating for 50 years.
On my first walk through Tiger Leaping Gorge in 2014, I crossed a stream valley on the trekking path near Bendiwan Village. A white film stained everything near the bank—trees, grass, ground. The stream waters themselves resembled thick white cream. When I heard that the mine was the source of the pollution a question arose in my mind. Were there health risks associated with walking the gorge? In Bendiwan I could hear explosions up on the mountain and saw clouds of dust lifting up into the air. I planned to hike the slopes above and worried about wandering near explosive charges, or coming into contact with toxic substances. Overexposure to tungsten, is that possible? Guides in Haba Village who were familiar with the Haba-Bendiwan Route (哈巴-本地湾路线) calmed my concerns. I went ahead with the trek, which passed through the mining district.
As of 2019, the white coating has vanished from that valley. But the waters there and in nearby streams, retain a milky coloration. One local resident told me the mine had done significant damage to the environment. Closing the mines was beneficial but too late, as the damage was long-lasting. Illegal mines, it was feared, might continue to operate under the radar.
Park management have an established mandate to oversee tourism activities and development within the park. This includes trekking the gorge and guiding of foreign tourists. I spoke with a team from park headquarters during one of their inspection visits to the gorge. They mentioned protecting the environment and ensuring proper regulation of development. All well and good. How will the park balance the concerns of impacted constituencies? For instance, the scenic values revered by trekkers, the legitimate needs of local villagers, and the effects of mass tourism promoted by Chinese entrepreneurs. We shall see.
My hope and prayer: that Haba Snow Mountain remain a place of wonderous natural beauty for all generations to come. May we protect and cherish this special place that means so much to so many.