Celebrating Thai-U.S. friendship through nature
As part of celebrations marking the milestone of 200 years of friendship, the United States and Thailand inaugurated a scenic 1.4-mile “friendship trail” through Khao Yai National Park last week that will educate trekkers about ecological awareness, the dangers of pollution and a greener future for all.
“This trail will serve as an important learning center for people who are interested in knowing more,” park chief Kanchit Srinoppawan said at the opening ceremony attended by officials from the U.S. embassy and Thai government. “All the trees on the trail are relatively young, about 50 years of age. They show how the forest can regenerate itself.”
That makes those trees just one-quarter of the age of the Thai-U.S. relationship. On June 24, 1818, a merchant ship captained by Stephen Williams of Massachusetts arrived at the port of Bangkok; the first contact between the two nations. Williams came to open trade with what was then the Kingdom of Siam. Siamese nobles warmly welcomed him, and in 1833 an official treaty was signed, the first by the United States with any nation in Asia.
For the past half century, Thailand’s industrial development has taken a toll on its environment. To mitigate that, the two allies have been working together on environmental issues. Khao Yai is the best known of Thailand’s 147 national parks. The Kingdom also has 58 wildlife sanctuaries, 67 non-hunting areas, and 120 forest parks. They cover almost 20 percent of Thailand’s territory.
Khao Yai is a sister park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that spans parts of Tennessee and North Carolina. That relationship was the result of a 2013 agreement between Thailand’s Department of National Parks, and the National Parks Service of the U.S. The two agencies founded the SPARK Project (Sister Parks Arrangement for Resources and Knowledge Sharing).
The two parks are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and are known as excellent places to observe wildlife.
Khao Yai is home to mixed forest, rainforest, and meadows. It already had six nature trails, but the new friendship trekking trail differs by showcasing how the trees there have evolved over the last half a century.
U.S. troops were once stationed in Khao Yai during 1959-1961. Evidence of their presence can still be found there. Remnants of a base, a helipad now used by the Thai military, and even footprints of U.S. soldiers from that time still exist.
Dale Ditmanson, a national park adviser with the Global Park Program and a former chief of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, told the Bangkok Post that the main concern for Khao Yai is how to safeguard the local environment from damage by the large numbers of tourists and the refuse they leave behind.
Photo courtesy of https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/management/sisterpark.htm