National

Popular Gunma hiking trail to reopen with reduced rescue services

Kyodo

The Oze National Park will be fully accessible for the hiking season from next week, but with rescue services limited due to the coronavirus pandemic, the park’s preservation body said Friday.

Half of the 20 mountain huts servicing hikers along the popular marshland will be open from Wednesday.

With poor cellphone reception in some areas, fewer rescue personnel and sections with precipitous and rocky pathways, the Oze Preservation Foundation has asked people to stay away if they feel such conditions make it unsafe for them.

Helicopters have been dispatched numerous times to rescue injured hikers.

The park, which spans Fukushima, Tochigi, Gunma and Niigata prefectures, is the largest highland marshland in Japan. It is known for alpine plants such as the Asian skunk cabbage and daylilies.

The foundation requested all 20 huts be shut until the end of June to prevent the spread of the virus, while facilities such as visitor centers and public restrooms remain closed.

“It’s regrettable, but we face different conditions from usual years,” an official at the foundation said. “We would like people to have the courage to stop hiking if they feel they are in danger.”

On May 21, a downscaled ceremony to mark the start of the hiking season was held in the village of Katashina, Gunma Prefecture. The number of visitors on the Gunma route has slumped compared with last year.

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