State’s proposals for Koke‘e, Waimea park lands draw opposition from cabin lessees

The possibility that recreational cabin leases might be terminated within Koke‘e State Park drew hisses and boos at a state Department of Land and Natural Resources meeting Tuesday.

Some audience members voiced frustration before a representative of R.M. Towill Corporation of O‘ahu, who discussed the possibility of ending 20-year-old leases for at least 121 recreational cabins by the end of 2006.

One option is to auction off the leases.

The presentation was made during a DLNR-sponsored meeting at the Lihu‘e Neighborhood Center Tuesday night. The meeting was called so state officials could present information on four options for a proposed master plan to manage and expand the highland park over the next 25 years.

Up to 100 people, including Kaua‘i Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau, and Lynn P. McCrory, Kaua‘i’s representative on the Board of Land and Natural Resources, attended the public meeting.

The mood of the meeting intensified when the subject of the cabin leases came up, according to one cabin dweller who attended the meeting. “They were hissing and booing,” said the cabin occupant, who asked not to be identified.

The current cabin owners won the leases at a public auction held in 1985. A sore point for them is an opinion from the attorney general’s office at that time saying the leases must be publicly auctioned by the end of 2006, and that ownership of the cabins would revert to the state, the cabin occupant said.

It was the impression of some cabin owners that they could keep ownership of the structures if they removed them before their leases expired.

The possibility that the cabins could be taken without compensation opens the doorway for possible lawsuits, which could, theoretically, hold up any planned auction of the leases.

Jim Niermann, a consultant for R.M. Towill, said the options are merely that, and that they can be revised or deleted. The proposal to auction the leases is not a certainty, he said.

Dan Quinn, administrator for the DLNR Division of State Parks, said the agency will be taking comments on the proposed master plan until Saturday, Oct. 25.

Comments should be sent to Lauren Tanaka at P.O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI. Faxes can be sent to 1-808-587-0311, or comments can be sent by e-mail to lauren_a_tanaka@hawaii.gov.

Quinn said the DLNR plans to take a preferred option or an option that is combination of some of the options to a BLNR meeting on O‘ahu Wednesday, Nov. 5.

A master plan is expected to be approved by the BLNR next spring, Quinn said.

Written comments were submitted to DLNR officials at Tuesday’s meeting.

Some recommendations came from representatives for the Hui O Laka-Koke‘e Natural History Museum, recommending:

  • No installation or operation of an entrance booth for the state parks, as recommended in three of four options proposed by the consultant. Admission fees would “directly affect Kaua‘i residents, who will simply stop using these important parks if they must pay to get in,” according to a statement from the museum;
  • Special dispensation in lease rents should continue to be provided for nonprofit and church camps to accommodate hundreds of local children and families who use the facilities;
  • Eliminate or control feral animals. In recent years, white-tailed deer, once limited to lands makai of the park, have invaded mesic forests in the parks as well as the cabin lots;
  • Radio communication for emergencies in the park should be available to park employees;
  • A new baseyard should be built.

Recommendations from the state’s consultant call for protection of park resources and of historic structures; upgrading of lookouts, trails and access trails; establishing an entrance fee; protecting and restoring native flora, fauna and habitats; educating visitors about the ecological value of the park resources; limiting vehicular access on park roads; and centralizing access in remote areas.

Other options call for increasing the miles of trails, integrating the state parks and forest systems through an improved trails system, and developing tours around themes dealing with native forests, bird-watching and “historic cabins.”

One option calls for maintaining the “status quo,” with facilities, activities and programs to be administered on a case-by-case basis at the two parks.

No new facilities would be built, and no new park programs would be funded or initiated.

In this scenario, DLNR officials would, among other responsibilities, monitor park use, protect park resources, and establish guidelines for the protection of historic structures.

A second option calls for sustaining operations with 35 percent of the park revenues; upgrading lookouts, trails, and access trails or instituting minor expansion of those features; enhancing the park’s identity; and renovating or repairing utilities and infrastructure.

A third option, among other recommendations, calls for establishing a “revenue-enhancement” program, including an entrance fee; protecting and restoring native flora, fauna and habitats; educating visitors about the ecological values of the region; establishing guidelines for the protection of historic structures; limiting vehicular access on park roads; and centralizing pedestrian access in remote areas.

A fourth option calls for:

  • Restoring and protecting historic and cultural resources;
  • Enhancing recreational experiences for park visitors by increasing trail mileage, and creating trail hubs;
  • Integrating the parks and adjacent forest reserves through an enhanced trail system;
  • Designing and constructing a visitor center that orients visitors to the park and shows the resources and history of the parks through audio-visual programs, exhibits and displays;
  • Developing tours around themes that deal with native forests, bird-watching and “historic” cabins;
  • Developing interpretive nature trails that are accessible to those with physical challenges.

Staff Writer Lester Chang may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net.

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