The Yeouido Saetgang Ecological Park is an unlikely green space. The wild wetlands are located in one of Seoul’s most densely-packed and expensive pieces of real estate.
Generally, it’s easy to forget that Yeouido (여의도) is an island, since its southern end fits snugly against the rest of Yeongdeungpo-gu district. But where the two landmasses connect is a small tributary of the Hangang (한강) river that’s called a “saetgang.”
This attractive 150-meter-wide greenbelt has a story similar to much of Seoul. Not long ago, the wetlands were an unpleasant and foul-smelling place.
That fate, however, began to change in 1997, when a park was created to protect a valuable habitat for insects, fish and birds.
After another major overhaul a decade later, the Yeouido Saetgang Ecological Park was reopened in May 2010.
Today, walking among the tall grasses and trees, you’ll likely see some of the dozen-or-so species of birds that frequent the park, including mallard ducks, red-eyed night herons or even a kestrel.
Restoring the Yeouido Saetgang Ecological Park was part of a multi-billion won facelift to Seoul’s popular Hangang riverside parks. However, the changes that took place at Saetgang differ in one important way.
Unlike the conspicuous lack of trees in other Hangang parks, hundreds of mature weeping willows were preserved, and the park escaped the relentless management seen in other green spaces.
Both sides of the wetlands are lined by busy roads. In fact, when the Olympic Expressway was built, the residents of Singil-dong (신길동) were cut off from easy park access, not to mention from a convenient pedestrian route to Yeouido itself.
Indeed, despite their proximity, the two neighborhoods feel quite distant. While Yeouido boasts sleek high rises and manicured parks, Yeongdeungpo is regarded by many as one of Seoul’s grittier areas.
But these neighborhoods are separated no more, thanks to the new Saetgang Bridge (샛강다리) or bridge that spans high above the wetlands.
The lovely, lavender-hued bridge opened on April 12, 2011. In his opening ceremony remarks, the former mayor stressed the bridge’s structural beauty and said it would serve as a “bridge of communication” between the neighborhoods.
The Saetgang Bridge that spans the Yeouido Saetgang Ecological Park has been met with considerable praise from area residents. Not surprisingly, it’s also become a destination for other Seoulites.
The dozens of steel cables that support the span are connected to two tall, slanted masts. Placed in a parabolic line pattern, at an angle the cables create the illusion of a curve that mimics the bridge’s own reversed S-shape.
The Saetgang Bridge itself features a wood walkway that’s about five meters across, which provides sufficient room for both walkers and those on wheels. For the latter, ramps and even bike pull-ways are installed on staircases are part of wider city efforts to be more bicycle friendly and wheelchair accessible.
Finally, another destination at the Yeouido Saetgang Ecological Park is the new Visitor Center. Located a few hundred meters east of the bridge, the center includes photos of park plant species, insect specimens pinned to the back of glass boxes, and a lecture room filled with fish tanks.
Among the specimens are live common carp and the northern snakehead, a fish native to Asia that’s recently played havoc in the U.S.
Thanks to its convenient location, unique setting and wonderful new bridge, the Yeouido Saetgang Ecological Park and the Saetgang Bridge are two of Seoul’s newest must-see destinations.
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About Matt Kelley
Matt Kelly is native of the US Pacific Northwest and is half-Korean by ethnicity. He lived in Korea for five years and has written hundreds of travel guides for Wallpaper, TimeOut, the Boston Globe and Seoul Magazine and was a host for several different variety shows on Korean radio and television.