A pristine wetland in the Sanjiangyuan, or Three-River-Source, National Park in Qinghai province. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY
Improvements to the local ecosystem are attracting visitors and raising people's living standards
During this year's May Day holiday, the northwestern province of Qinghai experienced a tourism boom, despite the hangover from the COVID-19 outbreak.
The province recorded more than 2.46 million visits during the break, a rise of 101 percent from the same period last year, generating income of more than 1 billion yuan ($156 million), according to the Qinghai Provincial Culture and Tourism Bureau.
Eco-friendly tourism activities, such as wild exploration routes and animal-watching tours, were the most popular options.
In recent years, Qinghai has made great efforts in environmental protection. It has built many nature reserves, forest parks, wetland parks and geoparks, which have boosted the eco-friendly tourist services provided by the province.
Qinghai has more than 100 different travel routes related to themes such as healthcare, culture, natural scenery, wildlife tours and even biological study.
Visitors can also experience a range of local cuisine based on vegetables and meat dishes at family farms.
Statistics from the provincial tourism bureau show that Qinghai launched 2,860 cultural and tourist projects between 2016 and last year, involving total investment of more than 103 billion yuan.
The province is home to three national ecotourism demonstration zones, 113 cultural industry demonstration areas and more than 200 handicraft workshops.
"The sources of China's three most important rivers－the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang－are all located in Qinghai, and this has earned the province the nickname 'China's water tower'," Xin Changxing, the provincial governor, said at the opening ceremony of the 2021 Qinghai Culture and Tourism Festival on May 19.
In addition to the natural scenery and landscapes, Xin said Qinghai is a great place with a diverse history and culture.
"We will use our advantages and promote eco-friendly, culture-related tourism to build Qinghai into a well-known travel destination both at home and abroad," he said.
The establishment of the Sanjiangyuan, or Three-River-Source, National Park, the first of 10 such facilities initiated in 2016, has played a crucial role in the path of green development.
As a key element in the country's comprehensive strategy to improve the environment and protect natural resources, construction of the national parks system is expected to make a significant contribution to the protection of the ecosystem and wildlife.
In 2015, China officially started the pilot parks project, covering a combined 215,000 square kilometers, about 2.2 percent of the country's total land area.
The Three-River-Source National Park was the first and largest of the pilots, covering more than 123,000 sq km.
That's about 14 times the area of Yellowstone National Park in the United States and 19 times larger than the Banff National Park in Canada.
According to a report released by the park's management committee, by 2019 grassland vegetation cover had increased by 27 percent from 2017.
In the past three years, the water quality of the Yangtze River in Yushu Tibetan autonomous prefecture has remained good enough for it to qualify as drinking water, said He Baoyuan, deputy director of the park's management office.
He added that the range of vegetation in the park has been increasing, thus aiding the improvement of the ecological environment, a sustainable development concept promoted by the Communist Party of China. To encourage more people to help with environmental protection, the local government has supported efforts to provide conservation training for one person from each of the families relocated when the park was established.
Statistics from the office show that 17,211 rangers are working in the park, bringing each family annual income of about 21,600 yuan.
In 2019, Qinghai started investigation and evaluation work at its nature reserves, helping to gain more detailed information about all natural resources in the province to ensure better protection.
As a result, the province has remapped its nature reserves. As of May 19, it had 79 nature reserves, covering a combined 267,700 sq km and accounting for 38.43 percent of Qinghai's total land area.
Of those reserves, national parks, including Sanjiangyuan and the Qilian Mountains National Park (which straddles Qinghai and Gansu province), accounted for half of the province's total area of nature reserves.
Protection efforts have borne fruit, with some endangered animals resurfacing in recent years.
"People's awareness of the importance of environmental protection is much higher than in the 1980s," said Sonam Rinchen, who works for the forest public security department in Zhidao, a county in the Three-River-Source National Park.