Fukushima Sky Park set to take off as more attractive "sky station"

Photo: A broad array of commercial applications is planned at Fukushima Sky Park, which will have the byword of "Sora no Eki (sky station)" from the upcoming new fiscal year.

The Fukushima city office and the nonprofit Fukushima Flight Association are engaged in a project to turn Fukushima Sky Park, a farm road airstrip, into an even more attractive tourist facility that would host a wide array of sky-themed events and attractions all season long, beginning in the new fiscal year that starts in April. The facility located in the city's Ozaso district will reopen with the new name "Sora no Eki (sky station) Fukushima Sky Park." The project organizers plan to hold various events in partnership with the operator of Roadside Station Fukushima, a rest stop being developed by the city in the same district, in hopes of inducing visitors to make a tour of that area. Event plans involving the nearby Iizaka hot spring resort are also in the works to help promote tourism in the northern part of the Fukushima Prefecture capital. Offering tours all year round The facility will bear the new name beginning on April 1 and Yoshiaki Saito, one of the masterminds of the project, hopes it will have added appeal to potential tourists and visitors. "We expect to draw attention to it as an 'air station' so it will become a place that can be visited casually anytime by families and others," said Saito, the 69-year-old head of the association. Nestled in a hilly landscape in the mountainous district, the facility is called "an air station in the sky." The project organizers hope to make the most of its location commanding the Azuma mountain range and a panoramic view of Fukushima city's urban area as tourist resources. Pleasure helicopter flights are also being planned and other ideas include refurbishing an exhibit room in order for visitors to have easier access and a casual look at a light airplane being displayed there. Another plan is to open to the public the aircraft used for training by aerobatic pilot Yoshihide Muroya, a Fukushima city resident. These are intended to capture new aviation fans. Taking advantage of the facility's spacious premises, the organizers are also considering offering events related to outdoor activities, which have seen growth in popularity in recent years. At Roadside Station Fukushima, which is a 10-minute drive from the sky park, rental bicycles, including 10 electrically assisted mountain bikes, will be placed in cooperation with its administrator and operator, Farmers Forest. Users will be given opportunities to ride along the main local road -- "Kaminagura-Iizaka-Date" route that is also commonly called the Fruit Line -- as well as the sky park as the organizers try to ride on the recent wave of bicycle tourism. The sky park facility has been closed during the snowy season -- normally from late December to late March. However, the organizers intend to hold winter attractions once it is revamped in a bid to establish a year-round circle of tourism. Ahead of the renewal, hands-on activities, such as making "kamakura" snow domes and enjoying snowboarding, will be held on a trial basis in February. Then the sky park will turn into the "snow park" in full swing starting in the winter of 2022-2023. The restaurant located inside the facility will increase its menu items and also set up a wining and dining space outside, with plans being considered for offering experiences linked to the majestic nature around there. In the tie-up with the Iizaka spa resort, the organizers are working on a strategy for event participants to make overnight stays in the hot spring area for the development of tourism in the region as a whole. The project raises "a possibility of generating new guests such as aviation fans," said Takaaki Hata, 71, chairman of the local hotel Yoshikawaya who is also head of the Iizaka onsen tourism association. "We would like to cooperate in a positive way," he added as he pins high hopes on the project. Roadside Station Fukushima to open on April 27 The official grand opening of Roadside Station Fukushima has been set for April 27. Ahead of it, the facility will conduct pre-opening operations for three days from April 21. It is located on the Fruit Line near the Fukushima Ozaso Interchange on the Tohoku-Chuo Expressway and sells peaches, pears, apples, cherries and other fruits produced in the "fruit kingdom of Fukushima" as well as local farm produce and specialties, among other items. The facility is also scheduled to house an indoor play area for children and have power-assisted mountain bikes and other bicycles for rent. Fukushima Sky Park: A runway 800 meters long and 25 meters wide was developed by the prefectural government in 1997 on a site of some 278,000 square meters. The airstrip opened in 1998. The total cost was about 3 billion yen. The Fukushima city office obtained the facility free of charge from the prefecture in 2003. The Fukushima Flight Association, an incorporated nonprofit organization, was designated to administer the air station in 2006. It was used initially for airlifting farm produce following the inauguration. In recent years, it has been used mainly for parking light planes. It is also used as a training base by aerobatic pilot Yoshihide Muroya. (Translated by Kyodo News)