Site of old quarries turned into leisure destination

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Standing in a mountainous area dotted by more than 30 lakes and covered by a wide expanse of evergreen trees, one can hardly imagine that two decades ago the area was an ugly environmental mess of quarries.

In deep winter, snow adds seasonal flavor to the leisure destination known as Huaxiacheng Scenic Area in Weihai, Shandong province.

The project is testimony to the concept that "green mountains and clear water can be mountains of gold and silver", said Wang Jihu, Party chief of Hebei community, one of the communities nearby.

"Combining environmental protection and tourism, the project not only brings a healthy environment to the 13 villages that surround Huaxiacheng, but also provides quality of life," Wang said.

Zhang Fulan, a villager of Hebei community, said, "It makes our village rich and the village committee buys insurance for each of us seniors who are older than 60 years old."

Late last century, the site of Huaxiacheng was torn by 44 quarries. Residents were bothered by dust on windy days and mud flows when it rained.

The government decommissioned the quarries because of concerns over pollution and called for the community to join in restoring the ecosystem.

In 2003, Xia Chunting, chairman of conglomerate Huaxia Group, who grew up in the area, shouldered the tasks. "My heart was broken when I saw the beautiful and peaceful place of my childhood was damaged. I wanted to restore it to let our children enjoy it," Xia said.

But he never thought the renovation project would take longer than a decade to complete. "There was no soil on the mountain, so we had to transport soil from far away," he said.

Another thing Xia hadn't considered initially was the huge amount of money the project would cost. Together with funding from local government, a total of 4.43 billion yuan ($640 million) has been spent.

More than 11 million trees have been planted and some pits have been transformed into lakes.

To realize sustainable development, Xia developed Huaxiacheng Scenic Area, featuring sightseeing, horticultural, educational and leisure programs. It received the highest 5A category tourism rating in 2017.

In 2018, more than 2.3 million people visited Huaxiacheng, generating around 200 million yuan.

"When President Xi Jinping came here in June 2018, he instructed us to continue putting the construction of ecological civilization as the top priority," Xia said. "We always bear his instruction in mind."

The tourism project has provided jobs to more than 1,130 villagers nearby, with average annual incomes exceeding 40,000 yuan, according to the Huaxiacheng management office.

"We are building an exhibition hall at Huaxiacheng to show visitors how green mountains and clear water can be mountains of gold and silver, with our own case of restoring the environment," Xia said.

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