Ranch welcomes visitors to greener pastures
The area, which is three times the size of Yeouido, a 2.9-square-kilometer (1.1-square mile) island in Seoul, could previously only be viewed from a distance - until now. The Daegwallyeong pasture, a hilly pass that runs along the Korean Peninsula’s eastern side, is part of Hanil Ranch, a farm owned by Hanil Cement. It will open to the public for the first time next month.
Before the newly titled Sky Ranch is officially unveiled on Monday, the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, wandered around the grassy area 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level and discovered a little about the intriguing history behind it.
A president’s legacy
In the 1970s, the Park Chung Hee government set out to develop Yeongdong, which lies to the east of Taebaek Mountains.
The administration built an expressway for easier access to the nation’s capital and then began focusing on turning Daegwallyeong into an agricultural hub.
The ambitious drive to cultivate the mountainous area was for the sake of the Korean people, who were suffering from poverty and a lack of food at the time.
“Seventy percent of the nation is comprised of mountainous areas,” former President Park Chung Hee said in front of a group of Korean chairmen in 1972.
“If we do not develop those lands, there is no way we will be able to handle the growing population. The number has already reached the 30 million mark, and annual growth rate has surpassed 2 percent. We cannot avoid the food problem any longer.”
Park’s plan included building cattle ranches in the mountains to produce an abundance of milk and beef.
But the construction of a 33-square-kilometer farm on Daegwallyeong would not be free from problems.
The area’s high altitude made it difficult to transport workers and materials while the ground was barren, leading to a shortage of grass for cow feed.
Despite the difficulties, two Korean companies took on the challenge of renovating Daegwallyeong. Chun Joong-yoon, the late chairman of Samyang Food, bought 60 percent of the land and Huh Chae-kyung, the late chairman of Hanil Cement purchased about 30 percent.
The rest was divided up by individual owners.
It made sense that Samyang Food, which makes ramen, one of the most popular foods in Korea, decided to take over the pasture, but Hanil Cement’s sudden interest in the agricultural industry was an unexpected turn.
In his memoir, Huh explained that the reason behind his decision was because he considered the president’s plea a “national task” that someone had to complete.
Daegwallyeong’s Three Kingdoms
Currently, there are three ranches in the mountainous area: Samyang Food’s Daegwallyeong Samyang Ranch, Hanil Cement’s Daegwallyeong Sky Ranch and Daegwallyeong sheep farm.
The latter 0.2-square-kilometer ranch attracts the most visitors among the three.
Samyang Food quickly kicked off its ranch right after it acquired the land, but Hanil Cement struggled. Its board of directors did not immediately give approval for the business to go ahead; from the cement company’s point of view, raising cows didn’t seem like a promising project.
In the 1970s, Daegwallyeong was practically a wasteland. The whole area was dense with weeds while its pebble-filled soil wasn’t suitable for raising cows. At Samyang Ranch, workers had to remove the stones one by one and plant grass.
The situation was no different for Hanil Cement. Huh often stayed at the ranch to take care of the fields with his employees, and his particular affection toward the grassy meadows is proven by the fact that he chose the ranch as his final resting place. He was buried there in 2005.
When Hanil Ranch was finally completed and the surrounding area renovated, Daegwallyeong’s scenery became breathtaking. Although there are some notable alpine meadows in Europe, none were cultivated by people. All of the ranches in the area are unique because they are man-made.
In 1975, Hanil brought in a total of 300 cows, and after four years it started to produce milk. For a time, the ranch had about 2,000 cows, but now the number has been reduced to 402 with 95 native Korean cattle. The farm churns out 1,400 tons of milk annually.
Despite the results, Hanil Ranch has never opened its doors to the public. Samyang partially opened up its farms in the 1990s and started collecting admission fees in the early 2000s, garnering one million visitors per year on average.
“Outsiders will never understand. But if you are a member of Hanil Cement, you will know why [we don’t open our ranches to the public],” said Baek Seung-doo, the president of Hanil Ranch.
“This ranch was like a sanctuary for our company. We are all aware of our former chairman’s unconditional love toward this place, which is why we never considered opening it.”
So why the sudden change of heart after faithfully protecting the property for the past 40 years?
One of the reasons is that neighboring Samyang Ranch has grown into a famous tourist destination inside and outside of Korea.
Another reason is that when the Daegwallyeong area was designated as a special zone by the government for the upcoming Winter Olympics, Hanil decided to join the trend.
Yongpyong Resort, Korea’s first ski resort equipped with modern facilities, was constructed near the mountain pass in 1975.
This led to Pyeongchang, where Yongpyong is located, becoming a mecca for winter sports in Korea, partially explaining the city’s selection as host of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Opening up to the public
The ranch has only been revealed once, when the famous Korean film “Welcome to Dongmakgol” (2005) was filmed there.
Despite a line of requests from other film companies, the reason the ranch said yes to “Dongmakgol,” was because of the producers’ persistence. After the ranch turned down the offer once, it got a call from the Pyeongchang County office asking it to cooperate with them.
As a result, scenes from the movie, such as when U.S. military aircraft crash and when townspeople slide down grassy hills, were filmed inside Sky Ranch.
The peaceful green meadows have been well preserved, appearing just as they did in the movie from 10 years ago.
One other thing that has also remained unchanged is its eco-friendliness - a top priority for Sky Ranch.
No cars are allowed in the ranch as a result, but visitors can move around on foot or by tractor. The ranch has also said it is focusing on restoring paths that were once tread by shepherds.
Children will be allowed to run around on the grass with the sheep, with no part of the greenery off limits.
On a map, you can see that the Sky Ranch is shaped like a V that wraps around Samyang Ranch. It is therefore divided into two complexes.
The first complex, to the right, is about twice the size of the second and encompasses most of the major facilities that will welcome visitors.
The second complex will be open only to those who apply for the horse-riding program.
“If you look down from Seonjaryung, on the right there is Gangneung and on the left there is part of our ranch,” said Choi Jae-don, 56, who has been overseeing the ranch since 1983.
“There are hikers who mount up to Seonjaryung [from the other side] and climb down to our ranch. But they think it is Samyang’s property.”
In the second complex, one can see Alpensia Resort - a water park and ski resort - on the left and Samyang’s ranch on the right. Along the ridge, 100-meter tall wind generators are sporadically situated, adding to the grandeur of the scenery.
BY SON MIN-HO [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Admission to Sky Ranch is 5,000 won ($4.93) for adults and 4,000 won for children, but for the opening month of September, entrance will be free of charge.
The tractor experience costs 4,000 won for adults and 3,000 won for children. The ranch also provides various activities like feeding the cattle and sheep and riding horses with extra fees.
For more information, visit skyranch.co.kr or call 033-335-5230