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Korea’s biggest ecological park to open to public next spring

South Korea’s largest ecological center officially launched last month to give a boost to ecological studies and enhance public awareness of environmental problems, according to officials from the Ministry of Environment.

The National Institute of Ecology finally unveiled the long-awaited center named Ecorium, which occupies almost 1 square kilometer in Seocheon, a small town in South Chungcheong Province.

Having been in temporary operation since March, inviting around 15,760 visitors, it will open to the public as early as next spring, the environment ministry officials said.

Investment of 326.4 billion won ($307.1 million) has been injected to bring 30,000 specimens from 4,300 species of plants to the park, the officials said.

The large-scale project kicked off in July 2009, after the government scrapped its 1989 plan to develop the coastal area into the Janghang Industrial Zone over environmental concerns.

The Seocheon County Office and six government ministries signed the joint agreement in 2007 to turn Seocheon into a hub of ecological studies and green industries.

A similar institution to the Ecorium is the United Kingdom’s Eden Project that contains more than 1 million plants representing 5,000 species from around the world.

Choe Jae-chun, an eco-science chair-professor at Ewha Womans University, will serve as the first director of the park. Choe is a renowned expert in the field who received his Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from Harvard University and established the Biodiversity Foundation with Jane Goodall this year.

To some environment experts, however, its scale is seen as overly ambitious.

“There are already more than 70 ecological centers and arboretums of its kind in Korea,” said Seo Jae-chul, head of the Green Korea United’s ecosystem division.

“It’s doubtful whether people will drive all the way to Seocheon to visit the 300 billion won building.”

By Suk Gee-hyun (