Refuge proving priceless

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Louise Barnfield, left, begins a tour of the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse Wednesday afternoon.

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Louise Barnfield, front right, leads a tour of the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse Wednesday afternoon.

KILAUEA — Wednesday was the first time Mandy White and John Tram had ever toured a lighthouse.

It’s the sixth year of volunteering for Kauai local Louise Barnfield, and she was more than happy to show the Canadian couple the ropes — along with a group of about eight other visitors touring the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse.

“You always learn something new on these. The people are great,” Barnfeild said as she guided guests through the three levels of the lighthouse, which has been standing on the northernmost point of all the populated Hawaiian Islands since it was built in 1913.

The lighthouse was a beacon for mariners until it was decommissioned in the 1970s.

“With the rise of technology it was no longer needed,” Barnfield explained.

A recent increase in admission fees to $10 from $5 for people ages 16 and older to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge went into effect.

Kamaaina passes are still $20 annually.

Since the rate hike started Oct. 1, visitor flow to the park hasn’t waned, said Jennier Waipa, visitors coordinator at the refuge.

“It takes a lot to maintain this, the staff and the volunteers,” Waipa said.

The refuge is evaluating the feasibility of increasing the number of days the refuge is open to the public from five to six days per week.

And other fees may be coming.

The $3 amenity fee for tours of the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse will be implemented at a later date.

“Due to steadily increasing visitation to the refuge over the last several years, which has resulted in increased traffic congestion and parking shortages at the refuge, the service is also evaluating options for alternative transportation and/or a reservation system for entry into the refuge,” a press release said.

If a refuge shuttle is implemented in the future, an additional $5 amenity fee will be charged to help fund operation of the shuttle, the release said.

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge receives about 500,000 visitors each year. About 80 percent of all money collected from pass sales and entrance fees remains at the refuge are used for visitor services and facility improvements.

Entrance fees support a range of projects that improve refuge conditions, including the restoration and maintenance of the historic Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse, maintenance of historic structures and other crucial infrastructure, and providing environmental education programs.

Tours of the renovated lighthouse started in 2014.

And while Barnfield is happy to lend a hand, the real thing that keeps her coming back is the birds.

“The Laysan albatross in particular,” she said. “They’re about to start coming back again. That happens in November.”

White and Tram poked around the rest of the refuge before their tour, and they said that they noticed the birds at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge as well.

“We spent an hour looking around (the refuge),” White said as they climbed the 50 or so stairs leading up to the light at the top of the lighthouse.

Waipa pointed out one of the wedgetail shearwater chicks on Wednesday, a ball of fluff tucked along the edge of the path to the lighthouse.

“They just come in and nest right along here every year,” she said, pointing out that many of the birds at the refuge — like nene, red footed boobies, shearwaters, albatross and red tailed tropicbirds — have different nesting seasons.

That means that for most months out of the year at KPNWR, there are chicks on the ground or nesting going on.

“That makes maintenance on the native plants difficult, because we have to be careful of the burrows,” Waipa said.

She looks forward to this the second week in October, when two things coincide — National Wildlife Refuge Week and the arrival of more staff for maintenance at the refuge.

In addition to the lighthouse tours and bird-watching, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is a place where locals take their kids for some time outdoors, a site for plein air painting and photography, location of a predator-proof refuge for endangered seabirds and a spot to score some albatross gear at the gift shop.

It’s all on the remnant of the former Kilauea volcanic vent that scientists say last erupted about 15,000 years ago. Today, according to KPNWR, only a small, U-shaped portion remains, including a 568-foot ocean bluff.

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Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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