The fight to spare crumbling sections of the Great Wall

It defended dynasties for more than 19 centuries, but in recent years, China's Great Wall has become vulnerable to time, weather, and human encroachment. Though the wall was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, its crumbling ramparts were without official protection until the Beijing Municipality—a New Jersey-sized area surrounding the city—instituted a new law in August to preserve its 390-mile Ming-era section.

According to William Lindesay, founder of the nonprofit International Friends of the Great Wall, China's rapid development is one of the greatest threats to the landmark. Entrepreneurial locals, recognizing the value of the cultural icon running through their backyards, have been charging tourists for access to the wall's less-trafficked parts. Such unregulated activity has damaged its fragile structure.

The new regulations call for a construction-free zone around the wall, of which only nine miles belonging to the municipality are currently designated visitor points; access to the remaining 381 miles must now be approved by local townships. Fines range from $24 for climbing and littering to $3,629 for setting up unauthorized tourism structures. How such measures will be enforced remains unclear.

Though most travelers never venture to these more remote sections, those who do—encouraged by guidebooks to test their mettle by climbing there—may now have to content themselves with ground-level views.