One of the biggest obstacles for us in Korea, are the restrictions on watersports. Almost all National Parks and Local Government Managed mountainous areas have bans on swimming or entering the water.
This makes sports like canyoning and kayaking very hard to participate in.
There are two main reasons given for restrictions.
One is safety. We have touched upon this in many previous posts, so we won't go into too much detail again here.
Even the rafting industry faces tough limits on what water levels they are allowed to operate at, with safety concerns cited as the motivation behind the restriction. If you've rafted abroad, or certainly if you have guided abroad, the restrictions are laughable. Appropriate training and equipment would remedy the situation and bring about a fantastic transformation of the sport here.
However, rafting does have a potential high impact on the environment. Launching and landing areas do see some serious traffic, which inevitably alters the natural state of the riverbank, unless you use an existing stretch of developed land. Rafting, without good management and communication, can cause conflicts with other river users, such as fisherman and swimmers. Again, training and communication can remedy this. In Europe, fisherman and rafters (or kayakers, canoeists, etc.) use the river at different times, and this solution works very effectively.
Rafting is only possible in stretches of river that are deep enough, and is only fun on sections that are fast enough. These inherent limitations of the sport naturally necessitate that the sport occurs on relatively shorter sections of the river, which limits some of the impact.
The effects on water quality are nonexistent, unless you are permitting the littering of the river, which no rafting company or practitioner should allow.
Proximity of roads and businesses to the river have already impacted the wildlife, and rafting is unlikely to exacerbate the issue.
High performance creek style kayaking is only possible on steep streams during periods of heavy rain. A kayak is going to have no additional affect on the streambed or bankside.
Canyoning, is a little more controversial. As canyoneers, we do move across the bottom of the stream. We use trees for anchors, and we climb over the bank sides.
However, properly educated canyoneers understand how to eliminate the impacts of their passing.
With reference to studies, such as the one here:
You can see that canyoneers have less impact that naturally occurring high water events.
I believe, that participation in canyoning and kayaking is often motivated by a deep love of nature, which instills in the practitioner a profound concern for preserving the environment.
The costs of equipment, the required investment of time for training, and the frequent discomfort of being cold and wet, are actually quite prohibitive towards wider uptake of the sports. These things keep numbers low and mean the sports are rarely anything more than a niche past-time, consequently keeping impacts low.
What prompted me to write this today, was a trip up Geumsu mountain yesterday. All along the trail, I saw litter: wet tissues, cookie wrappers, used hot packs, water bottles, etc.
Hiking is massively encouraged here. Trails are made more and more accessible, every month. New stairs are built; parking areas are extended, facilities are constructed.
Why the inconsistency in the National Parks' stances towards the mountain sports?
Canyoning and Kayaking is bad, but hiking is ok? It doesn't make any sense to me.
Behaviour of individuals is the issue.
If you're looking to get into canyoning, here in Korea, please look after the streams as best you can. We need to show that we truly care.