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Annual ice fishing fest opens in Hwacheon

An annual ice fishing festival, organized by NARA Foundation will begin this weekend in the northeastern town of Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, featuring ice fishing, bare-hand fishing, an ice sculpture

An annual ice fishing festival, organized by NARA Foundation will begin this weekend in the northeastern town of Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, featuring ice fishing, bare-hand fishing, an ice sculpture plaza and a street of fish-shaped lanterns.

“This year’s festival will be held on Jan. 14 until Feb. 5, which will focus on nighttime events for local and foreign tourists who have complained about the lack of nighttime entertainment for night owls,” organizers said.

“We’ve greatly increased programs that visitors can enjoy at night as we are trying to make the world-famous Hwacheon Sancheoneo Festival a festival for overnight stay,” said Choi Moon-soon, head of Hwacheon County. “We are determined to join forces among the civilians, local government officials and the military to make it a success.”

A small town bordering North Korea with a population of 27,000, Hwacheon is said to have more soldiers than residents, and has attracted more than 1 million tourists annually during the festival in recent years.

A ceremony was held in Hwacheon last Saturday to light up 27,000 fish-shaped lanterns which will brighten up the Seon Deung (fish lamp) Street during the Sancheoneo Festival. The figure represents the county’s population.

A plaza has also been established to show about 30 ice sculptures, the largest indoor exhibit in the world. Experts from China’s Ice and Snow World have manufactured the sculptures of world-famous landmarks over the past month. It will be open until Feb. 12.

Festival-goers can drop fishing lines in holes drilled into the frozen river to catch sancheoneo, or mountain trout, and can also enjoy bare-hand fishing.

Last year, the festival was named a representative South Korean festival and also one of four global winter fests along with China’s Ice and Snow World, Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival and Canada’s Winter Carnival.

The festival, started from 2003, has attracted more than 1 million tourists every year over the past decade, an unprecedented feat in the world festival history.

The number of foreign tourists surpassed a record of 78,000 last year with foreign media outlets carrying photos of thousands of people enjoying ice fishing concurrently in Hwacheon.

The South Korean government has chosen the festival as South Korea’s representative fest for four consecutive years from 2014, recognizing it as the sole festival which opens at night.

The festival is estimated to have had a 99.1 billion won (US$ 84 million) economic impact on the county economy, according to a Hwacheon County survey.

More than 70 percent of the county residents take part in the management of the festival with elderly residents making fish lanterns and others selling farm products and providing lodging facilities to visitors.

More than 15,000 local residents have volunteered this year to serve as tour guides, traffic controllers and cleaners.

Organizers have issued 1.26 billion won worth of gift vouchers to local residents who participate in the festival.