Tourism authority plans improvements at state, county parks

The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority wants to help spruce up state parks like Na Pali Coast, Wailua River and Koke‘e state parks, along with Kaua‘i County parks and overlooks.

The Fern Grotto, located within the Wailua River State Park, was a top choice for rejuvenation by Kaua‘i County, HTA officials said in a news release.

Thousands of visitors have been brought to the Fern Grotto over the years by Smith’s Motor Boat Service Inc. and Waialeale Boat Tours Inc., two state-approved vendors that operate from a marina on the Wailua River in East Kaua‘i.

In all, 19 sites on Kaua‘i are among 100 “natural resource sites” on six islands in Hawai‘i that have been identified for an HTA inventory and assessment project. The agency wants to help improve sites frequented by visitors.

Many visitors are drawn to Kaua‘i for its natural beauty, and the improvements would help enhance the island’s eco-tourism industry and would help keep Kaua‘i a viable destination stop in Hawai‘i.

More than a decade ago, when Kaua‘i County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura was mayor, she advocated the support of the budding industry.

She felt the industry offered a way to protect the environment and encourage development of eco-tourism types of businesses, including hiking and nature tours.

Related to the HTA project, available funding could be used to enhance the 19 island sites, agency officials said in a news release.

In addition to meeting other goals, the HTA “initiative” involves the allocation of $1 million from the transient accommodation tax to the DLNR for park and trail improvements.

It is not known if the funds are in addition to DLNR’s operating budget for the year.

Among the Kaua‘i sites that were identified for the HTA study are: Anini Beach; Ha‘ena Beach County Park, including Maniniholo Dry Caves; Ha‘ena State Park/Ke‘e Beach, including the Waikanaloa and Waikapalae wet caves; the Hanalei Pavilion; Hanalei Black Pot Beach; Hanalei Valley Lookout; Kalapaki Beach; Keahu Arboretum; Kealia Bay Lookout; Kalalau Lookout; the trailheads of the Awa‘awapuhi, Pihea and Nualolo trails in Koke‘e; Lumahai Beach; Maha‘ulepu Beach; trailhead of Kalalau Trail and portions of the trail from Ke‘e Beach to Hanakapiai; Hanakapiai Beach and campgrounds; Po‘ipu Beach Park; Polihale State Park; Spouting Horn Park; Opaeka‘a Falls, the Fern Grotto; Poliahu heiau and the Holoholoku heiau in the Wailua River State Park.

At a meeting on Kaua‘i within the past two weeks, officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the state Department of Transportation discussed state projects planned for Kaua‘i.

DLNR Deputy Director Ernest Lau stressed funding has not been approved, but noted that among his agency’s priorities was getting funding for work on the bathrooms at the Wailua and Koke‘e state parks.

Lau said his agency would be sending its funding proposals for projects on Kaua‘i and throughout the state to Gov. Linda Lingle.

The HTA project calls for the assessment of natural resource areas used primarily by visitors, prioritizing areas of improvement and recommendation of action to improve the natural resource areas, according to an agency release.

HTA officials said PBR Hawaii, a planning firm, has been contracted to conduct the inventory. When the consultant’s team will come to Kaua‘i to evaluate sites is not known.

“HTA’s vision is to develop a tourism product that not only attracts visitors but also protects the environment and natural resources,” said Rex Johnson, president and chief operating officer of HTA.

The assessment identifies resources that are popular with visitors and are at risk or in need of improvement, Johnson said in a news release.

The intent behind the project is to “promote them (the resource sites) in a manner that is economically and environmentally sound,” he said.

Those conducting the inventory will look at the condition of comfort stations, park facilities, interpretive facilities and maintenance of sites; use of sites; safety and health issues; access and surrounding areas, HTA officials said.

The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Hawaii Ecotourism Association, the DLNR the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism have been asked to act as advisors for the HTA project.

Dan Quinn, administrator for the DLNR’s state parks division, was not immediately available to give comment on the HTA project and its potential benefit to park system resources and facilities.

People wanting to give comment on the natural resources assessment project can call Vincent Shigekuni or Sara Slovin at PRB Hawaii at 1-808-521-5631 or sslovin@pbrhawaii.com. For more information on the project, go to http://www.hawaii.gov/tourism.

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

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