State closes Fern Grotto

Citing dangers of falling rocks, state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks officials have ordered Fern Grotto closed, according to a press release and Kamika Smith, general manager of Smith’s Motor Boat Service.

Work to mitigate the rock-fall hazards at the popular stop in Wailua River State Park accessible only by boats along the Wailua River is expected to begin tomorrow, and take around three weeks, according to Peter Young, DLNR chair, in a press release.

“Fern Grotto experienced rock-falls during the height of the heavy rains in February and March. Sections of walkway were subsequently closed off,” said Young.

“Recently, several rocks have fallen, striking the viewing area. One was a boulder four feet across,” he said.

“We have closed the park effective immediately, for public-safety reasons, now that experts have assessed the situation. Wailua River tour boats will not be allowed to land,” said Young.

Smith said he met with DLNR Division of State Parks leaders yesterday afternoon and, after a state-contracted rock expert toured the popular destination, ordered the closure of the grotto until mitigation measures are completed.

The recent round of heavy rains appears to have caused erosion on the ceiling of the cave area of the grotto, and there is a danger that several large rocks could fall from the ceiling, Smith explained.

The verbal order to not continue tours to the grotto was issued yesterday, to be followed up today with a letter, said Smith, who once again is scrambling to find -work for his 40 full-time employees.

When the heavy rains of last month moved debris down the river and wrecked part of the Fern Grotto dock and otherwise prevented the Smith’s boats from plying the river on Fern Grotto tours, Smith had to “be creative” in order to find work for his employees, and also offered them vacation time, even loans, in order to sustain them until tours could resume.

“Our employees are the ones that we’re worried about,” said Smith, who added that the plan now is to offer river and Smith’s Tropical Paradise garden tours without the popular Fern Grotto stop.

But he had several confirmed reservations for Fern Grotto trips this week, and even some weddings scheduled up there, that he will have to try to accommodate elsewhere, he said after state officials dropped the “bomb-shell” of the closure of Fern Grotto on him yesterday afternoon.

If visitors book the river and garden tours, he’ll be able to keep some of his employees working, he said. “Gotta be creative,” he said.

By today, he hopes to have a better action plan to keep his employees working until the all-clear is given to return to the grotto, he concluded.

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