There are “guardians” in all the national parks of the country. Although they do not live in national parks, they frequently visit and take care of them. Thanks to their efforts, citizens can enjoy national parks without any inconvenience.

Park Chang-yong, 63, started climbing mountains in his 40s. Park, who made 8 billion won in annual sales selling fabrics at Dongdaemun Market in Seoul, suffered a major setback in life when his business went bankrupt in the early 2000s. He managed to overcome his frustration while climbing mountains. “Climbing helped me forget everything and just focus on the rock in front of me. That’s the charm of rock climbing,” Park said. He is now a 20-year veteran, having scaled the rocks almost 4,000 times.

The park recently entered Bukhansan National Park. There are many accidents in the national park as it is frequented by 6.56 million visitors per year (as of 2020). Park cleaned up rockfall and maintained damaged facilities each time he went to the mountain. Finally in April 2020, he set up a group of volunteers working for mountain safety.

The number of volunteers grew to about 80 in less than two years. Every Saturday, around twenty volunteers climb the rocks and clear the surrounding area. Most of them check areas where national park staff cannot easily reach or rockslides often occur. When climbing mountains, they carry not only climbing gear, but also a bag to collect garbage. “It’s sad to see leftover food on the mountain or climbing tools breaking through the rocks,” Park said.

Wang Gye, 58, from Taiwan, has worked as a natural environment guide at Gyeongju National Park since 2012. A natural environment guide is someone who introduces visitors to the flora and fauna of national parks. Wang mainly guides Chinese tourists visiting Gyeongju National Park, but also provides environmental education for Korean students. It is also his job to constantly observe the ecological changes in the national park.

After moving to Gyeongju, her husband’s hometown, in 1992, Wang worked as a Chinese teacher but decided to become a wilderness guide because she wanted to learn more about Korea. Only three people from multicultural families were selected across the country, and she was the only Chinese-speaking natural environment guide.

Gyeongju is the only national historical park among the country’s 22 national parks. It has been designated a national historical park because it has great conservation value in terms of nature and historical relics. “I was naturalized as a Korean citizen 17 years ago, but I still study Korean because the scientific names of animals and plants as well as historical terms are difficult,” Wang said. “I feel gratified when visitors are admired by Korea’s natural and cultural heritage and satisfied with my guide.”

Sung-Min Park [email protected]