Hiking in the Alishan region yesterday, I succeeded in killing three birds with one stone. For my own satisfaction, I wanted to properly explore a trail that has long intrigued me. I also wanted to gather information on the area because I’m updating my guidebook. Finally, I needed to complete a commission from a US publisher that first reached out to me over three years ago.
The publisher, through its Asia editor in Manila, contacted me because they’re compiling a series of books about hiking and walking trails throughout the world. These aren’t guidebooks in the conventional sense, but instead books that evaluate how these paths and routes are presented to those who use them. Are the signs and information boards up to scratch? Do they provide all the necessary and desirable information? The first volume is already out (but not sold on Amazon, for some reason) and being pitched to national parks and similar bodies around the world as a reference work that will help them follow the best international practices when planning or revamping hiking trails, cycle paths, and the like.
When I was invited to choose a popular hiking route in Taiwan for the second volume, I was told not to concern myself with the physical condition of the trail, or how well it appears to be maintained, though I should note any dangers and annoyances – including that of getting lost – which the signs and information boards fail to address or address inadequately. (In Taiwan, where typhoons and earthquakes are frequent, not even the best-funded government agencies can keep paths open or in good condition all the time.) I also need to assess official webpages that describe the route. All in all, it’s an interesting little project, and not a million miles from the government-sponsored bilingualization work I’ve done.
Tefuye Historical Trail, pictured here, links Zizhong (where there’s an abandoned police station, a bathroom, and a friendly lady who sells soups and other hot dishes from the back of a truck) near Alishan with a farmer’s road 6km from the little indigenous village of Tefuye. Hikers get few long-distance views from the path, but its appeal is understandable. The forest hereabouts is indeed alluring; but for having to get to the other end and then hike not merely to Tefuye but on to the more substantial settlement of Dabang in time to catch the last bus back to Chiayi, I would have moved much more slowly…
So what kind of thing am I going to include in my report on the trail?
Taiwan’s Forestry Bureau actually does a pretty good job when it comes to signposting hiking routes, although it doesn’t seem to have an English-language page dedicated to the Tefuye Historical Trail. (On this page, the name of the path is wrongly rendered “Futeyeh,” and other details contradict signs and information boards on the ground.) Accordingly, most of my suggestions are in “ideal world” territory. For instance, I came across what looked to be eco-friendly engineering alongside the trail. Many visitors would be interested in learning about this, but none of it is labeled. And what about the old, twisted sections of rail track that rust beside the path in two or three places? A bit of tidying and labeling would convert these remnants from being near-eyesores to positive additions to the landscape.