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By Wayne Chang, CNN
To hike this trail in Taiwan, tourists need to use more ears than eyes, and most importantly — shut up.
The Cuifeng Lake Circular Trail is a pristine hiking route hugging Taiwan’s largest alpine lake in northeastern Yilan county about 135 kilometers (84 miles) from the capital Taipei.
It was recognized by an international nonprofit group as the first “Quiet Trail” in the world.
The accreditation was granted by the US-based Quiet Parks International (QPI), which engages in research and raising public awareness on the benefits and importance of “quietness,” with a view to preserving tranquil urban and natural places.
Built on the old tracks of a forest railway at elevations between 1,900 and 2,000 meters (about 6,500 feet) above sea level, the trail snakes through a lush and moist cypress forest carpeted with thick green moss, which acts like a layer of “natural sound-absorbing foam,” QPI said in a statement.
The lowest measured volume on the trail is fewer than 25 decibels, which is QPI’s classification for “almost silent.”
While the 3.95-kilometer (2.5-mile) trail is frequented by visitors, many hikers turn back at the end of the 300-meter wooden walkway after getting a view of the lake. This drop in the number of hikers can help preserve the natural silence of the trail, Taiwan’s Forestry Bureau said.
The certification is welcome news to Taiwan, which has lost out on tourist revenue amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the island has eased entry restrictions and cut home or hotel quarantine to three days as of June 15, leisure tourists are still unable to visit. This has made domestic travel even more vital for the economy.
“For a densely populated island to have the world’s first certified ‘Quiet Trail’ carries special meaning for Taiwan,” said Lin Hua-ching, director of the Forestry Bureau.
A decade in the making
What first struck renowned natural sound recordist Laila Fan about the trail was how quiet yet diverse and rich it is in ambient sounds and animal noises.
A symphony of birds chirping, insects humming, frogs calling, leaves rustling and twigs crackling as wind breezes through the woods — these are sounds “unique to Taiwan and can be only heard here,” Fan, who is Taiwanese, told CNN Travel.
“Silence doesn’t mean there is nothing there. On the contrary, there is already something there, but we never pay attention; we never really listen,” Fan said.
After her first audio recordings around the Cuifeng Lake in 2012, she spent six years working to raise public awareness and preserve quiet of the environment, including building an online database of natural sound recordings from 50 places around the island.
Her efforts resulted in the Taiwanese government declaring the route as the first “silent trail” on the island in 2018, followed by the QPI certification this year.
Fan is not concerned that publicity about the quiet trail may bring new visitors — and their noise along with them. Instead, she hopes the designation and subsequent attention will inspire visitors to “open their senses” and understand how to respect quietness.
“I encourage people to walk this trail with a humble attitude and open their hearts to listen,” Fan told CNN Travel. “Once you are silent, you can hear everything around you.”
What comes next
For a place in the wilderness to meet QPI’s standards, there can be no more than one audible human-caused sound every 15 minutes.
QPI hopes the certification will increase awareness of the need for people and wildlife to experience quiet, and encourage conservation of habitats — and the hush.
For Fan, the certification of the trail is just a first step.
“Creating more quiet trails is not only important for human beings, but also for animals living in the forest. They need a quiet environment to communicate with each other and reproduce so that life goes on,” Fan said.
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