The efforts to demilitarize the world’s most heavily armed border have now turned towards outdoor recreation. With an okay from the U.S., South Korea will begin developing hiking trails alongside its demilitarized zone (DMZ) border with North Korea.
The Republic of Korea, as South Korea is officially known, announced earlier this month its intention to build what it calls “peace trails” alongside the tense border.
However, according to the armistice agreement ending the 1950-53 Korean War, the U.S.-led United Nations Command must give approve any plans that involve the border. The war, which ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, saw open hostilities cease with the creation of the DMZ, which is approximately 155 miles long and 2.5 miles wide.
“United Nations Command (UNC) and the ROK government have demonstrated superb teamwork, collaboration, and coordination throughout the entire ‘peace trail’ process and will continue to do so,” says General Robert B. “Abe” Abrams, commander of UN Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, said in a press statement.
“The ROK military has worked extremely long hours to ensure the success of this very important initiative, while assuring visitors their safety remains paramount,” Gen. Abrams continues.
The hiking trails have already been functionally operational for several days. On April 28, 20 South Korean citizens walked the pathway, which originates in Goseong County in the province of Gangwon. Reminders remain of the region’s difficult past, from barbed wire fences to minefields. The 20 hikers along one of the trails were chosen through a lottery. The group walked along the shore with double barbed-wire fences along the seaside.
The trail also demonstrates what many saw during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics—that the Korean peninsula is one of the most beautiful regions on the planet, with remarkable eastern coasts meeting the Sea of Japan. Those who walk the trail can also see Mount Kumgang, a mountain known for its beauty as well as its place as a Korean symbol. On a clear day, views of the North’s coasts, lakes, and mountains are also visible.
“I can hardly control my emotion for becoming the first to step on the land closed to civilians since the national division,” Park Sang Ki, a 60-year-old resident of Busan and one of the first hikers, told the press. “I wish the barbed wires will disappear as soon as possible so that the people of the South and North can come and go freely.”
Originally published on Popular Mechanics