Dispute over Fees to National ParksProtests against the present collection of entrance fees to national parks are being mounted by some influential NGOs and religious groups. The dispute is over the present system which has visitors to national parks paying at one time for not only the entrance fee to the park but also the fee to any cultural heritage sites (usually Buddhist temples) that lie inside the park itself, regardless of whether the person has no intention of visiting the cultural site. This system, started in 1997, has not been changed due to strong lobbying by Buddhist temple interests inside the parks.
But on March 7, at a rally organized by the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), one of the biggest Korean NGOs, various citizens' groups voiced their opinion in favor of the original split in the collection of fees. The Buddhist Chogye order (one of the main and largest branches of Korean Buddhism) stated its opposition to this proposed re-division of fees. Government officials in attendance said they had planned to abolish the entrance fee charge in the long-term.
The lawyer representing the PSPD, Lee Sang-hun, said, "The current system in place charges for access to cultural assets inside temples even for those who have no intention of seeing that particular cultural site. It is clearly an illegal source of income for the temples. Splitting the fee system is the only way for there to be no overcharging."
Another spokesman for the PSPD also remarked that they might consider filing a lawsuit against temples in the national parks in order to regain illegally acquired income generated by the present fee system. On the other hand, a spokesperson for the Chogye order said, "The fee problem is really caused by the entrance fee to parks only collected in recent years by the government itself. The entrance fee system must cease entirely. If the fee system is to be split, then another booth will have to be set up causing further troubles, environmental or otherwise, and effect a raise in fees. Eventually people will complain about it."
An official at the Ministry of Environment said the government is aware of the troubles raised by the current charging system and will eventually abolish the entrance fee charge some time in the future.
by Park Tae-uk