Last week I visited one of my favorite rivers in Taiwan, only to find access to it blocked on my way out. (中文版: 天鵝湖第二次消失了) Losing access to rivers is an ongoing trend, and more and more scenic spots are falling prey to Section 36 of the Act for the Development of Tourism, which allows for local governments and administrative regions to criminalize swimming and playing in the water.
Unlike what has happened in places like Wannian Canyon and Yumenguan, where official procedures and due process was followed, what’s happening at Swan Lake and Lover’s Lake is an entirely different scenario.
Instead of following the legal process, a local landowner has taken it upon herself to build a gate across the road, thus preventing access to the land behind her property, the old Swan Lake Dewen Scenic Area Park (part of Maolin Scenic Area), and that section of the Kadegeiyang River.
She is claiming that the road belongs to her because it cuts through her coffee farm. Questions about whether it is legal to block the road, and if she also owns the buildings on the other side of her land (Swan Lake Visitors Center) were met with hostility and profanity. She said that if the government wants her to open it, and let people through to the hiking trail, they have to give her money for it.
A bit of history
Prior to Typhoon Marakot in 2009, Dewen Scenic Area was a vibrant tourist destination in Southern Taiwan. Swan Lake was the crown jewel of the Dewen Eight, and was the most famous landmark in that area, before the landslides took the path and parking lot away. It still appears on some road signs.
In addition to the waterfall, Swan Lake Visitor’s Center also had a large park, cafes, and a research facility run by the agricultural department of Pingtung University of Applied Sciences. Lover’s Lake, another one of the Dewen Eight, was also part of the Swan Lake Visitors Center.
In these satellite photos, you can see the scale of the old visitors center, the fate of the road and path, and that left unattended, nature slowly reclaimed the remaining buildings. They’re still there but are now entirely inside the jungle.
If anyone reading this has visited Swan Lake before Typhoon Morakot, please share your experiences and photos in the comments below.
When I first starting looking for Swan Lake in 2013, everyone told me it was destroyed. I twice visited the old visitors center, got scratched up by the jungle, and twice failed to make it up the river to the waterfall. Without exception, everyone I talked to told me that this amazing piece of southern Taiwanese culture was gone, and that I should give up. But I kept asking around anyway.
In the Summer of 2016 though, I met a trio of 75-old men who were riding their scooters offroad in the mud like bunch of teenagers. I helped them to get to Ala Stream Waterfall, and they told me that they had been to Swan Lake Waterfall recently, and encourage me to go myself. They were the first people to ever tell me that it wasn’t destroyed.
With new enthusiasm I went back to the visitors center and after a few hours of trial and error, I made it down to the river and up to the waterfall. And what an amazing sight it was. Swan Lake. Not Buried. Clearly the same place as the old photos, but about a meter shallower (meaning the waterfall is a meter taller), and with a smaller “lake”. The rivers are always changing.
I also visited Lover’s Lake downriver, which has become one of my favorite swimming spots, and watched it grow by about two meters, when flooding from Typhoon Meranti cleared away tons of small rocks from the pool.
Since then, these two places have become increasing popular. As access to information and awareness that they still exist grows, more and more people have been visiting and falling in love with these locations. The paths are now easier to find and follow, and everyone seems to be enjoying the place. It’s become a popular local fishing spot, and last week when I visit I met a group of local teenagers who said that this was only their 2nd time ever visiting. Everyone seems to be enjoying the park. Everyone except one.
Immediately after arriving it became clear that there was something going on. A truck was blocking the road and a stern lady who claimed to be the landowner said that they are closing the road, and that if we go in, we need to find another way out.
It seemed like a bizarre move to me, considering that there are dozens of plots, power lines, and several large crumbing buildings, which I presume are still owned by Maolin National Scenic Area, on the other side of her plot. The road is drivable for another 150 meters past her land, and used to continue for another 500 meters, to the parking lot of Swan Lake Visitors Center, and power lines extend the entire way.
We were unable to find a different way out, and true to her word, the landowner refused to open to gate to let us out from the inside. Because she would not let us out on the road, we were forced to walk through her farm, thus accomplishing the very thing she was building the gate to prevent. She did not see the irony.
What Can You Do?
I contacted Maolin Scenic Area and the Pingtung County Office of Land Management. They have jurisdiction over the area. They both seemed confused as to how someone could block a road, but promised to look into the situation for me. A few extra calls from concerned citizens would go a long way to speeding up the process.
In the meantime, here is the location of a nearby waterfall that I visited a few years ago and never posted. It’s beautiful, has no gate, and is free.