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Annual ice fishing fest opens with ice sculpture, fish lantern parade

All News 11:18 January 13, 2017

HWACHEON, South Korea, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- An annual ice fishing festival begins this weekend in the remote northeastern town of Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, organizers said Friday, featuring ice fishing, bare-hand fishing, an ice sculpture plaza and a street of fish-shaped lanterns.

This year's festival to be held until Feb. 5 from Jan. 14 will focus on nighttime events for local and foreign tourists who have complained about the lack of nighttime entertainment for those who stay overnight, they said.

"We've greatly increased programs that visitors can enjoy at night as we are trying to make the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Festival, which has become world-famous, 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."

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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 27,000 fish-shaped lanterns which will brighten 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.

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Last year, the festival was named a representative South Korean festival and has become 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, which began in 2003, has attracted more than 1 million tourists every year over the past decade, an unprecedented feat in the world history of festivals.

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

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The South Korean government chose the festival as South Korea's representative fest for four consecutive years from 2014, recognizing it as the sole festival operating in the black.

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.

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