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Jingbo Lake Scrambles for World Geopark Laurel
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A satisfactory expert investigation has brought Jingbo Lake a step closer to the status of a world geopark.


From August 1-3, Dr Hartmut Escher and Dr Andreas Schueller, members of the assessment committee for world geoparks, were sent by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to visit Jingbo Lake in Mudanjiang, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.


During the field study, the experts, both from Germany and with longstanding experience in the European and Global geopark networks, were accompanied by Jiang Jianjun, director of the Geological Environment Department of the Ministry of Land and Resources, and heads of related national and provincial sectors.


At the welcome ceremony, Liu Xueliang, vice-governor of Heilongjiang Province, said the provincial government had placed a special emphasis on the application efforts.


He said Jingbo Lake is a famous destination for volcano-featured tourism, contributing remarkably to the local economy and social development.


Lu Bing, mayor of Mudanjiang, promised that the city would invest more to build Jingbo Lake into a standard world geopark combining scientific research, scientific popularization, tourism and leisure functions. "We will make the lake known not only to Chinese people, but to foreign visitors as well."


The two UNESCO experts said they were deeply impressed by the characteristic geology and landforms of Jingbo Lake, such as the lava waterfall, lava stalactite and the ancient ice caves, which are unique in the world.


"I'm very glad to have had a chance to visit this magical place for several days, and I wish you good luck and a sustainable, brighter future for Jingbo Lake," said Dr Hartmut Escher.


Dr Escher said since the lake has the ability to attract an increasing number of visitors every year, more and more people will learn about the rich and typical geological heritage, resulting in a good effect of scientific popularization.


Dr Escher also gave good advice on the development of the geopark.


"It is not enough for the lava tunnels to be accessible only to geologists. I hope they will be open to common visitors as well in the near future, of course, given the promise of sufficient protection. If the park decides to open the lava tunnels to more visitors, it should consider more effective and innovative protective measures."


UNESCO has switched its focus from the development of scenic spots to the sustainable growth of natural heritage, stressed Dr Escher.


He added that the purpose of world geopark evaluation is to provide an opportunity to better facilitate the exploration and protection of geological resources rather than the mere exploitation of geological heritages.


Both experts praised the well-prepared, exquisite application materials, adding that the government's promise had fully showed the importance it had attached to the bid for the world geopark title.


"The presentation in English is fascinating and extraordinary," they said.


The two German experts will submit an investigation report to UNESCO world geopark assessment committee after the trip.


The committee is scheduled to hold a meeting in Northern Ireland on September 17 when the third batch of world geoparks will be voted out.


Application efforts


Ninety-seven kilometers to downtown Mudanjiang, Jingbo Lake geopark has a planned area of 1,400 square kilometers.


Featuring volcanic geological heritages and China's biggest lava barrier lake, it was awarded with the title of national geopark by the Ministry of Land and Resources in 2005.


Ever since the lake became a world geopark candidate at the end of 2005, Mudanjiang's authorities have tried every possible means to push it closer to its goal.


According to Yang Ming, vice-mayor of Mudanjiang, more than 16 million yuan (US$2 million) has been invested to formulate tourist routes for scientific popularization, give professional trainings to tour guides, complete the overall planning of the geopark, set up a geological museum, establish standardized sign posts within the park, and produce manuals, albums and video disks for tourism promotion.


Over the past few years, some 10,000 square meters of unsightly and illegal buildings have been removed, while a series of infrastructure facilities such as the North Lake ring road and two large-scale parking lots were established.


The local government injected 11 million yuan (US$1.38 million) last year to build two humanistic landscapes - a cultural park to commemorate a legendary girl named Hong Luo in a red thin silk dress, and a stele park named Qijing or Enchanted Trail.


The park has also made energetic efforts to optimize its environment. It reforested 19,000 mu (1,266.7 hectares) of cultivated land and built six sewage treatment centers within its core scenic areas.


And a green area of over 20,000 square meters was added, creating a pleasant and safe tourism environment for visitors.


(China Daily August 18, 2006)

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