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State on right track for improving trails

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.

The

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.

Use of

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

tourism.

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

utilitized.

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

geoscientist.

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