The Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources, especially its
Division of Forestry and Wildlife, should be complimented on the initiation and
lon-awaited refinement of their Na Ala Hele Trail and Access Program.
program is a far-reaching one that combines preservation and maintenance of
Hawaii’s natural environment with economic responsibility. It provides for the
control of commercial trail tour activity and the collection of fees for trail
use. For example, limits have been set on the number of hikers per trail per
day, and the number of four-wheel-drive vehicles per road per day. Fees range
from $5 per hiker to $100 per vehicle.
The brilliance of this program is
that it allows commercial operators access to the island’s unique, world-class
geobotanical settings for valuable education and recreation, and it provides
the opportunity and the means for operators to contribute directly to the care
and maintenance of the trails and roads that are being utilized.
Kauai’s hiking trails by tour companies, and the impact of their activities on
the environment, is minor. For the most part, the activities of tour companies
do not add to the number of hikers. Most nature tourists hike with guidebooks.
Others prefer guide people. Tour companies mainly respond to an already
existing demand from nature travelers.
Such travelers commonly desire
professionally guided, educational hiking tours because of the greater
assurance of safety and the personal touch that a knowledgeable guide brings to
the learning experience.
Uncontrolled visitor and resident public use
actually creates the greatest impact on trails, unquestionably comprising
greater than 90 to 95 percent of the foot traffic in our parks and preserves.
Professional guided hiking is not the principal problem with respect to trail
degradation, but it can be part of the solution by providing supplemental funds
for the trail maintenance.
On Kaua’i, DLNR’s Division of Forestry and
Wildlife has done amazingly well, with minimal funds, to improve and maintain
trails at a high level of quality throughout the various forest preserves under
their jurisdiction. However, more money and personnel are badly needed in order
for them to keep up with expected pressure from expanding nature
Fees collected from tour operators from the controlled use of
specific trails will provide funds to help sustain our natural resources for
future educational and recreational use by residents and visitors alike.
Operators will have no reason to complain about trail use fees when they know
that the funds will be used to maintain the natural resource being
Hopefully in the near future, DLNR’s Na Ala Hele Trail and
Access Program can be expanded to include the collection of modest fees from
the much more voluminous visitor public that enter the state’s world-renowned
parks and forest preserves. Hawaii’s tax-paying resident public already
contributes money for the care and maintenance of the state’s valuable natural
resources. Certainly there should never be any reason for our residents to pay
park entrance or trail use fees.
Na Ala Hele is a good beginning for the
acquisition of badly needed funds to continue care and maintenance of the
valuable natural resources on which Hawai’i will unquestionably be relying for
future sustainability as the tourist industry – especially nature tourism –
continues its growth.
Chuck Blay, who lives in Koloa, is a