Guest Viewpoint for Tuesday — July 29, 2003

• Camping should be decriminizalized


Camping should be decriminizalized

By DAVE AND MELISSA SCHNITZER

I don’t get it. “Illegal camping!!” (As the state calls it). What is so criminal about camping? Ever since I was little, I enjoyed going out into the woods and sleeping under the stars. Camping was a favorite pastime, a family thing, and certainly never frowned upon.

It wasn’t until I moved to Kaua‘i that I heard the phrase “illegal camping”. How can something so positive, like camping, be illegal? The two words don’t even belong in the same sentence. Yet, here they are.

My husband and I recently retired, and still being young, decided to move to Kaua‘i and spend our weekly check. Our plan was to camp for a year and decide on the best area for us to build a house. Instead, we got the unexpected. Now, 6 months later, we’re not sure we want to make Kaua‘i our home.

According to the powers that be, we would not be legal campers unless we paid for a permit and camped in a designated area. Here is where the problem starts. You can only obtain a permit for a handful of state chosen beach parks and that’s only if you get to the Lihu‘e office by 3:30 p.m.

Of these parks, the majority of them are so overrun with ice heads and drunks that camping, let alone sleeping, is impossible. We can’t even begin to count the number of nights we have packed up and left because of unruly people crashing through our camp. Unfortunately, this is the only place the state will allow us.

You can’t sleep long anyway! If you do manage, you’re usually woken around 5 a.m. by a rude ranger stomping through your camp wanting to see permits.

Permit or no permit – they will wake you.

Hawaiian or tourist – they will harass you.

Isn’t it a Hawaiian tradition to live on the beaches in the summer? We camped in Polihale with a Hawaiian family over the 4th of July weekend. Or should I say tried to camp. Everyone was outraged when on Independence Day, a small army of rangers came through and took away our freedom.

Not just once, but 3 our of 4 days. And not just Polihale – they raided them all. Dropping from the sky and diving off boats, you would think we were all on America’s Most Wanted from the way they handled it.

Then we read in the paper, the rangers are boasting about citing 20 surprised illegal (that is permitless) campers early one morning in Kalalau.

Congratulations guys? They were mostly tourists and probably will never return to the island. Are you trying to drive away your last economic asset?

About a week ago, we spent two hours on Secret Beach. Upon returning to the parking lot, we found our truck had been broken into and everything stolen. But the cops tell us it’s a common occurrence and it can’t be controlled.

We have an idea. Why not have the rangers patrol the parking lots for thieves instead of the beaches for permitless campers. Oh, We’re sorry, we forgot. The money is in citing the campers while the state profits none from catching thieves. But hey, we understand where the state is coming from. They need money. It’s all about the money isn’t it?

To reiterate, the whole reason we came to the island was to camp and decide which area we wanted to build a home. Yet we haven’t been able to sit still for more than 4 days – the rangers won’t let us.

So here is our suggestion. Kaua‘i has a large sovereignty movement consisting of Hawaiians who want to live on their homelands. Koke‘e has a special association consisting of people who want to save their cabins. We agree with them both and give them our full support. But why not start a campers association. It would be made up of people who just want to peacefully sleep on the land, and not just in state designated areas either.

Decriminalize camping! We’ll be among the first to sign. After all, it’s the people living on the beaches who lend Kaua‘i its character. They are what drew us here and they are what will keep the tourists coming back.

Come on Kaua‘i! Get your priorities straight. Camping is not a crime.

Dave and Melissa Schnitzer reside in Makaweli.

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