City turns to tourism since mines shut downThe city of Mungyeong in North Gyeongsang province was an underdeveloped, polluted mining town with a bleak future until 10 years ago.
Since then, Mungyeong has transformed itself into a tourist attraction by promoting its newly cleaned-up environment.
By turning coal yards and closed mines into tourist sites, the city has attracted 3 million visitors with revenues of 60 billion won ($59 million) annually.
Mungyeong was one of the biggest coal mine towns in Korea. But when charcoal briquette consumption decreased significantly, the coal mines started to shut down, and the last one closed in 1994.
Mungyeong city officials met daily to look for ways out of the crisis. They finally came up with a few ideas, including turning one abandoned mine into a tourist resort. In 1999, a coal mine museum was established near the entrance of the Eunsung mine. Mining equipment is displayed along with an explanation of the mining process, making the place an educational center for visitors. Over 300,000 tourists visit annually.
The set for the KBS drama, “The First King Wang Geon,” has also played a role in boosting Mungyeong’s tourism. The city allowed KBS to use 66,000 square meters of land for free. On the weekends and holidays, more than 10,000 people visit the area each day.
The city is building an 18-hole golf course in Maseong-myeon, Oeeo-ri, and an amusement park, sports park and ecological park in Sangcho-ri. The city is also constructing a meditation “well-being” town in Mungyeong-eup. After the city began promoting itself as a well-being center, 60 percent of the tourists come from Seoul and the metropolitan area.
In Sangchori, Mungyeong, backpackers walk on a dirt road single-file. Tourists are enamoured with the sound of water and birds and delight in walking on a beautiful road that runs deep in the forest. The set of the television drama, “The First King Wang Geon,” which is located near here, is continuously teeming with tourists.
At a shooting range for tourists in Buljeong-dong, visitors with earplugs take aim at clay pigeons. The Gaeun Line, which was used to transport coal, is used for railroad bicycling, a huge attraction for tourists. Since last March, the railroad bike program provides 50 bicycles, each able to fit four people. On weekends there are about 2,000 riders per day, and people wait up to five hours for a bike.
“The surrounding areas have beautiful scenery,” said Shin Hyun-jun, a tourist from Suwon.
Mount Dansan, which has a road that was used by coal trucks, is 1,000 meters above sea level and has been transformed into a haven for paragliding maniacs.
According to the Mungyeong city office, a total of 3 million tourists visited last year, five times more than the number of visitors in 1999 just before the development plan started. Since the opening of the central inland freeway, the number of tourists from Seoul and other metropolitan areas has been increasing.
“When the mines were closed, I worried about how to make a living, but I don’t worry about it now thanks to the tourists,” said Lee Mu-ja, a restaurant owner.
by Hong Gweon-sam