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Hiking boom in Singapore as more turn to their backyard to cope with Covid-19 travel restrictions

SINGAPORE — Singapore is experiencing a hiking boom of late, turning leisure travellers who would usually be jetsetting to scenic spots around the world into domestic hikers overnight.

Hikers at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on Sunday (Nov 1, 2020) morning.

Hikers at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on Sunday (Nov 1, 2020) morning.

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  • Singapore Hikers Facebook group grew from 2,000 members in June to over 20,000 now
  • NParks said it has seen a “significant increase” in visitorship across gardens, parks and nature reserves
  • New local hikers said they are surprised Singapore has so much nature to offer
  • A seasoned hiker, however, pointed out that trails are more littered these days, and a few are illegally cutting their own trails

 

SINGAPORE — Singapore is experiencing a hiking boom of late, turning leisure travellers who would usually be jetsetting to scenic spots around the world into domestic hikers overnight.

This comes as Covid-19 travel restrictions remain, forcing people to turn to the nature spots in their backyard.

Without going into the numbers, the National Parks Board (NParks) told TODAY that it has seen a “significant increase” in visitorship across gardens, parks and nature reserves here since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Validating this trend is the number of people who have joined the Singapore Hikers Facebook group since the circuit breaker ended on June 1. The group, which had been around since 2018, had about 2,000 members then, but boomed from August, with its membership surpassing 20,000 on Thursday (Oct 29).

Its founder and moderator Joven Chiew, a head of sales and marketing at a software company who is in his late 40s, said the group had been receiving about 500 new requests daily from people asking to join the group.

Discussions in the Facebook group show that many are turning to hiking in Singapore for the first time, with some soliciting tips to uncover some of the wilder and lesser-known trails, beyond those that are manicured and well-paved at Coney Island, the Southern Ridges, and the like.

File photo of hikers at Rifle Range Nature Park. Photo: Low Youjin/TODAY

One of its newer members is teaching assistant Ng Li Chan, 38, who had, until earlier this year, dismissed the idea of hiking in Singapore and had gone for better options in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu, thinking that they offered better views.

“I was a little sceptical in the past and think that local parks would be ‘man-made’ and not as natural as those we could find overseas,” she said.

But she got hooked after embarking on her first hike at one of the nature trails at MacRitchie Reservoir in July, and had since completed eight more hikes. The trails had allowed her to turn on her “exploration mode” and feel “alive” and “at one with nature”, she said.

Mr Peter Canoy, a 33-year-old engineer who usually hikes overseas in Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines, was also initially doubtful of where he could find good hiking spots here.

He said he had the impression that Singapore is a “very small and jam-packed island”, but was pleasantly surprised that “Singapore can offer more given the constraint”.

The only thing that is missing for him is the sound of nature, he said. “Instead of birds and wind howls, you’ll hear cars along the expressway, which pushes you back to reality that behind those large trees and high bushes are modern infrastructure and high-tech stuff.”

Ms Diyanah Atiqah (left) exploring the abandoned Fort Serapong with her friends in September. Photo courtesy of Diyanah Atiqah

ISSUES THAT COME WITH THE BOOM

With the crowds come a number of disamenities which are apparent to some of those who had already been hiking here before the pandemic hit.

Seasoned hiker Ben Ho, who frequents the Central Catchment area, said he noticed that the trails were littered with significantly more trash during the circuit breaker period from April to June. He started making it a habit to pick up trash while hiking about twice a week.

On each of such trips, the 34-year-old social worker would fill up a trash bag full of rubbish, including food and drink packagings, plastic bags, shoe soles, tissue paper and wet wipes, disposable masks, cigarette butts, beer cans, and even used condoms on some occasions.

Trash could sometimes be found 3m into bushes, or along unmarked trails, he said. These could be the result of hikers who did not heed signs to not carry food or drinks as they walked and attracted monkeys which would snatch the goods, he pointed out.

Litter seen strewn around at Petaling Hut in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve in August. Photo courtesy of Ben Ho

Mr Ho had also encountered people who would deviate from well-trodden paths to “cut”, or discover their own trails.

“There are many signs demarcating official trails and exhortations to stay on the designated trails. However, there are people who would disregard these warnings,” he said.

“Some of them even fancy themselves knowledgeable about hiking, but open themselves up to being attacked by wildlife by picnicking in places frequented by monkeys or other wild animals, or even getting lost while trying to find trails or attempting to explore trails.”

However, Dr Adrian Loo, group director for conservation at NParks, said he had not observed an uptick in the number of hiking-related violations or incidents, pointing out that NParks had taken enforcement action on about 140 people for straying off trail every year for the past five years.

“While there have been more visitors in our parks, gardens and nature reserves in Phase Two (of the resumption of activities here after the circuit breaker), we are encouraged to see that most continue to practise good trail etiquette, including staying on designated trails,” he said.

Nevertheless, he warned that anyone caught straying off designated trails in nature reserves can be fined up to S$2,000, and that signs and railings had been installed at nature reserves and parks to remind visitors not to stray off the designated trails.

Dr Loo reminded hikers that nature reserves here are home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, such as the native Keruing and Meranti, as well as the critically-endangered Raffles’ Banded Langur and the Sunda Pangolin.

“Going off-trail might cause damage to the forest floors beside the paths or trails. Human activity in these areas can also affect animal movement, or result in trampling of plant saplings, some of which could be endangered saplings,” he said.

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