Chuncheon, South Korea: A new life for old Camp Page
May 3, 2013
Eight years after U.S. Army helicopters made their last flight from Camp Page, just south of the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ), the area has become a tourist mecca with a high-speed rail link to Seoul and plans to develop land where the base once stood.
If you climb to the top of a small hill near the center of Chuncheon, about 20 miles south of the DMZ, you can still see the outline of Camp Page amid the urban sprawl.
The camp was home to a battalion of Apache attack helicopters and more than 1,000 2nd Infantry Division soldiers and civilian personnel before it closed in March 2005.
What used to be the main street on post is open to the public and links Chuncheon’s central business district to a new rail station where people can ride a bullet train to Seoul. The trip, which used to take two hours, takes only an hour these days.
Faster transport means more tourists, drawn by the area’s lakes, rivers and mountains to hike, ski and golf. Visitors can also check out some of the places where the hit soap opera “Winter Sonata” was filmed.
Since helicopter flights ended, restrictions on land development in Chuncheon have eased and most of the 173 buildings that were on Camp Page have been demolished.
Officials plan to consult the public before devising a long-term plan for the 145 acres of bare land that remains, according to Soon-mu Park, an official with Chuncheon City’s Urban Improvement Department.
About half the site has been earmarked for commercial development and the rest as public space. It’s possible that a park, local government buildings, a fire station and court house will be built there, officials said.
In the meantime, workers are turning one large hangar, once used by the U.S. Army, into a sports complex and another into a gymnasium for disabled people.
There are also plans for apartments in an area of the base that used to be known as the Team Spirit training field, Park said.
One of the dozens of people walking through the area where the base used to be on a recent weekend, government worker Son-Hee Yun, said the Americans who used to live and work there weren’t so different from the locals.
She thinks apartments should be built on the land since it’s so close to the central city and could provide homes for many people.
Another Chuncheon local, university student Sophia Chisong-Un, 24, said the area seems more peaceful without the whir of helicopter rotors.
Recent tensions with North Korea have a few locals questioning whether the Americans should have left.
Chisong-Un said she’s a little worried about the North Korean threats.
“If the American soldiers were here, then they could protect us,” she said.
However, most don’t seem overly concerned.
“It’s a political show,” Yun said.
“Chuncheon citizens don’t seem anxious at all,” said Park, adding that there are still plenty of tourists in town despite the recent tensions.
By car: Travel from Itaewon and Chuncheon Station will take about 75 minutes; tolls will be approximately 7,800 won.
By train: Trains leave at nearly hourly intervals from Yongsan to Chuncheon.
By subway: The trip from Sangbong to Chuncheon takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes. From Yongsan To Chuncheon, it’s about 2 hours and 20 minutes.
By bus: Express buses run every 40 or 50 minutes from the Gangnam Express Bus Terminal (GEBT). It’s about a 90-minute ride to Chuncheon.
One suggestion for lunch is Myungmule Taek-kalbi, a restaurant that serves Taek-kalbi, a spicy chicken dish that is a local specialty. It’s located in Myongdong, the heart of the city, a 15-minute walk north from Chuncheon Station. Dishes cost between 6,000 and 15,000 Korean won.
Address of Myungmule Taek-kalbi: 50-7 Choyand-dong, Chuncheon. Phone: 033-257-2961.