Last week, Gov. Linda Lingle released $1.2 million for a grant-in-aid to Kaua‘i Planning and Action Alliance for two state park projects at the Na Pali Coast and Koke‘e State Park.
“It was perfect timing,” Diane Zachary, president and CEO of KPAA, said of the release of the money. “What a wonderful surprise.”
The money was earmarked by legislators last June from the Legislature’s 2007 budget.
The capital improvement grant received by KPAA is only for the first two miles of the 11-mile Na Pali Coast, or Kalalau Trail, from Ke‘e Beach to Hanakapi‘ai. These first two miles are the most used and do not require a permit to use.
According to a press release from KPAA, the expected results of trail repairs include the improvement of drainage and soil erosion problems, the installation of water bars or other devices to assist in drainage, the removal of obstacles on the trail and the closing off of non-official shortcuts.
“We haven’t worked out the details yet,” Wayne Souza, Kaua‘i state parks superintendent with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said. “It’s the start of making permanent improvements to the trail.”
Zachary said there is a general plan in place of how to improve the trail and KPAA will be contracting trail builders for an “assessment of work that needs to be done.”
According to Zachary, one of the reasons some of the work hasn’t been done on the trail is because the trail is an archaeologically rich area and more studies need to be done before the trail is fixed.
“We will be keeping with the wilderness concept by using natural materials,” Zachary said. “It has to look natural and beautiful.”
Though the trail will have a traditional wilderness feel, Zachary said safety will be the number one issue.
“We want the trail to look as natural-looking as possible, but safe,” Zachary said. “The erosion and drainage issues need to be taken care of.”
Because there are different problems with the trail at different times of the year due to weather issues, Zachary said the KPAA wants to hear from frequent users of the trail who hike it year-round “to hear what the problems are.”
And because the problems of the first two miles of the trail will be fixed, Zachary doesn’t want the trail to lose the charm and challenge that has made it a world-renowned trail.
“We don’t want it to get overused,” Zachary said. “It still needs to be challenging. It can be challenging and safe at the same time.”
According to a park survey given in 2007 by the Hawai‘i State Tourism Authority, the Na Pali Coast trail ranks ninth in the state of park usage. In 2006, the trail had 423,100 visitors, including 368,100 out-of-state users.
“So many people from all over the world and people from around the islands use the trail,” Judy Dalton, Hawai‘i Sierra Club executive committee chair, said. “They should be ensured that it will be safe.”
Dalton added that she is looking forward to the start of trail improvements.
Kathy Valier, an avid hiker and a published author who wrote her master’s thesis in geography on the Na Pali Coast, said that though the latter part of the trail is in need of repair and improvements, it makes sense that work is being done on the first two miles.
“It’s less in need, but more people use it,” Valier said. “The first two miles gets people that are less experienced.”
Zachary said that KPAA submitted a grant-in-aid request last year for improvements to miles 3 to 11 of the trail, but that grant was not funded.
“My hope is that with the support of the community and great construction on the first two miles, more money can be allocated (for the remainder of the trail),” Zachary said.
The rest of the grant money will go toward the completion of renovations to the CCC Camp in Koke‘e State Park.
“We’re thrilled it is released,” Marsha Erickson, executive director of the Koke‘e State Park Museum, said. “We are tickled.”
According to Erickson, Hui O Laka has been working on the restoration of the camp since 1990 with volunteer work, community donations and no state funding.
“(The camp) is halfway complete,” Erickson said. “This boost will see it through to its completion.”
Erickson estimates about $170,000 has been put into the camp already.
Expected results of camp repairs include the return of all electrical and plumbing services to the camp and the completion of all finish work in Barracks A and B, Mokihana Cabin, Wash House, the storage sheds and fireplace.
“These are tight times,” Erickson said. “Word was the governor wasn’t going to release the money. She found room in her heart and her budget to release the money.”
The CCC Camp at Koke‘e State Park was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1996, Erickson said.
“It’s one of the few CCC Camps in the country that is almost fully intact,” she said. “Eleven of the buildings are up and almost ready to go.”
Erickson said she couldn’t thank Kaua‘i legislators enough for all they have done for the park.
“It’s good for Kaua‘i to keep the history of Koke‘e alive,” Erickson said. “And to expand the capacity to keep volunteers in the park.”
• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or firstname.lastname@example.org