A green oasis (of sorts) in the middle of Seoul

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A green oasis (of sorts) in the middle of Seoul

In this congested city, a park where animals are free to roam is something that not very many longtime residents are likely to have seen.
Now they can see it ―to a degree ―in the newly unveiled park known as Seoul Forest, in Ttukseom, the island on the north side of the Han River. It’s something of an oasis for Seoul residents who are looking for a piece of nature.
Visitors can stroll around and enjoy trees, ponds and marshes. Occasionally they can see a mandarin or spotbill duck ―even a moose. The deer, however, are fenced in.
A total of 122 animals, of eight species, have been placed in the park; all but the deer are free to move around as they please. Twenty-two thousand trees, including pine, oak, maple, metasequoia, and winged spindle trees, have been planted in the park, which covers 1.1 square kilometers (271 acres) and is divided into four different sections.
But none of this is to say that Seoul Forest is quite a forest, in the sense of being pure, undisturbed nature. Busy roads cut the park into three sections, though there are footbridges across each of them.
During the Joseon Dynasty, Ttukseom was a hunting ground for kings and a training ground for soldiers. In 1908, a water purification plant was built, followed decades later by a horse racing track and a nine-hole golf course.
The racetrack was moved to Gwacheon long ago (though part of the spectator stands remains); the purification plant is still here, but parts of it have been transformed into a botanical garden and outdoor performance hall. The golf course is now the park’s grassy center.
Interconnected ponds and streams add to the park’s picturesque quality. The streams are lined with stones and crossed by footbridges.
Entering through the main gate, visitors are greeted by sculptures of jockeys on horses. A timed fountain gushes water in changing patterns; it looks almost as though the water were dancing. Creeks can be seen, with water flowing from the pond in the center of the main park. Mount Ueungbong is reflected in the shallow “winter pond,” with its still water contained in black stone.
Moving along, visitors pass a kind of aquatic playground, with a chain bridge and cleverly designed kinetic water equipment for kids.
Next comes the small, fenced-in area of perhaps half an acre where the deer are kept. They huddle together and keep their distance from people. Nearby is a playground, with wooden slides, bridges and other things for kids to climb on. With a concrete tunnel and some rides imported from Europe, it looks nothing like the sort of playground that’s usually seen in Korea.
Continuing along the path, visitors arrive at a wide, open space, the grassy center of the main park. The main pathway circles the lake and open space, and offers a scenic view.
The southwestern corner of the park is a place where visitors can experience a bit of wildlife. Ten moose (and 30 squirrels) have been set free here. Don’t get your hopes up about seeing a moose, though; they generally come out at night, says Lee Keun-hyang, a project manager at the park. A 560-meter (1,837-foot) footbridge lets visitors cross from the biggest pond, in the main part of the park, to the southwestern corner of the park and get a look at everything from above, without disturbing the animals.
Another bridge connects Seoul Forest to Hangang Park along the river, where a new dock has been opened for the sightseeing boats that go up and down the Han River. Visitors can board here and take the boat to Yeouido or southeastern Seoul.
South of the main park is the botanical garden that was once the purification plant; it has been converted into a greenhouse, with a glass roof. North of the main park is a marsh, though the plants are new and haven’t grown enough to be visible. There’s also a skateboarding park.
Not all of the former site of the racetrack here was converted to parkland; along the park’s main entrance are tracts that were sold off to private developers, which are building high-rise apartments there. This means that dust and noise from construction is likely to be a part of the Seoul Forest experience for at least a few years. Still, given the fact that land in this area goes for 10 million won ($10,000) per square meter, perhaps residents will be grateful for whatever green space they’re given.

by Limb Jae-un

Seoul Forest is near the north end of Seongsu Bridge over the Han River; it’s a 15-minute walk from Ttukseom subway station, line No. 2, exit 8. The park is open from 5 a.m. to midnight daily. Limited parking is available, at a cost of 300 won per 10 minutes. For more information, go to parks.seoul.go.kr/seoulforest/.
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