The ongoing 2019 Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival is gaining explosive popularity, with the number of its visitors highly likely to hit an all-time high.
The annual ice fishing festival kicked off Jan. 5 on a frozen lake in the remote county of Hwacheon, about 120 kilometers northeast of Seoul, for a run till Jan. 27.
[1+1 EVENT] Sancheoneo Ice Festival all in one tour
According to organizers Friday, about 1.15 million tourists came to the festival during the first 13 days of its opening, up some 10 percent on-year.
The number of visitors is sure to set a new record this year, surpassing the previous record of 1.73 million visitors last year, the organizer said.
What makes people enthusiastic about the festival in this mountainous town?
Hwacheon is usually talked about in weather news only at this time of the year as one of the coldest areas in South Korea
The county with a population of a mere 27,000 has more soldiers than civilians as it is a military town bordering North Korea. As a result, the town’s economy depends on soldiers and visitors.
In addition, more than 80 percent of the town consists of mountains and a river, making it difficult for people to readily visit the place on ordinary days.
In fact, the isolated county launched the festival in 2003 in a desperate bid to activate its extremely sluggish economy amid a mixture of anticipation and worry.
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There was great concern over whether “sancheoneo,” which was almost unknown to people at that time, could be the highlight of the festival. Sancheoneo is a species of trout known to live only in very clean fresh water.
Moreover, Hwacheon had to raise the fish at fish farms in other areas and then transport them to Hwacheon Lake during the wintertime because it’s not home to the fish.
Hwacheon residents also worked hard to make the fish adapt to the lake’s temperature and maintain the thickness of the lake’s ice during the festival.
The festival began with some 200,000 tourists on its first year and has seen more than 1 million every year since 2006.
A 2.1-kilometer field of ice is packed with visitors who wish to catch some 20- to 30-centimeter sancheoneo with fishing rods or their bare hands.
Nearly 20,000 fishing holes are pierced through the ice in an area about the size of 24 soccer fields, and 180 tons of sancheoneo are released during the festival. Notable is all the fish undergo safety checks before their release into the lake.
The festival finally has made a great contribution to the local economy.
The county has made use of gift cards with which tourists can buy local products. Their sales have soared from 2.3 billion won (US$2.05 million) to more than 100 billion won. Some 250,000 gift cards were circulated last year alone.
The festival has also drawn great attention from foreign news media covering the splendid scene of people trying to catch the fish through holes in the vast frozen lake as a global topic. In 2011, a leading global news organization introduced the festival as one of the seven wonders of the world. This year, more than 100,000 foreigners have visited the festival thus far, according to the county.
The festival also features some 60 kinds of programs, including various outdoor activities, such as barehanded fishing, a sled contest and a meeting with Santa Claus. It also boasts an ice sculpture square near the festival site and a street with 27,000 lanterns. (Yonhap)