South Korean hiker turns garbage into a work of art with “don’t drop your eyes” message

By Minwoo Park

GANGHWA, South Korea (Reuters) – When hiker Kim Kang-eun found the slopes of Mount Jiri, South Korea’s largest national park, filled with rubbish during a two-day trip in 2018, he decided it was time to send a message to take better care of nature .

He founded the Clean Hikers group, whose job is to remove garbage from there and from other mountain parks in the country and turn it into art.

“Scrap art is much more attractive and more receptive to people, rather than just telling us not to litter. We can create an interesting picture, and that attracts people’s attention,” said Kim, 30.

He spoke in front of a crying cat collage bearing the slogan “Save the World” and made by himself and other members of the group at the top of Mani Mountain on Ganghwa Island, a park outside Seoul where many stray cats roam.

The similar collages of fish and bird, butterfly, and man presented by the group on the mountain tops were made entirely of garbage, including a face mask that members collected with steel tongs nearby and filled into plastic bags.

As sidewalks related to COVID-19 limit indoor activities and large gatherings, more South Koreans spend time outdoors.

According to the Korea National Park Service (KNPS), the number of visitors to the three major national parks close to the country’s major cities increased by more than 20 percent in October from the same month last year.

A visit to the 22 national parks it manages produced more than 800 tonnes of garbage in the first nine months, he added.

While much of this garbage goes in the trash, some don’t. And Kim is grateful for the new interest in clean hikers, which was also inspired by the pandemic.

“(But) we can’t clean the whole mountains. The most important thing is to keep doing this, tell people about it, and hire as many people as possible. It’s more important,” Kim said.

(Report from Minwoo Park; edited by John Stonestreet)