Parks department works through growing pains

Kaua‘i County’s parks and paths offer space for picnics and play, families and fun.

There is room for peddling and strolling, lounging and camping. Big events and small fiestas. Tennis and soccer, basketball and boating — even golf.

But behind the typically clean comfort stations and beyond the usually mowed lawns sits an administrative team tasked with managing more than 140 employees who care for some 500 acres and all the facilities that come with it.

Voters in 2006 by charter amendment created the county Parks and Recreation Department to handle the job.

The new department, previously housed under Public Works, turned one year old on July 1.

The past year in part has been spent managing existing operations while restructuring for optimal performance, Parks and Recreation Director Bernard Carvalho Jr. said in an interview yesterday at his office inside the Mo‘ikeha Building.

“I’m not going to say it’s running smoothly,” he said.

It has been a bumpy ride in a somewhat unfamiliar car, but the driver seems to have a firm grip on the wheel — dodging pot holes, pumping the brakes when necessary and hitting the gas on the straightaways.

Carvalho attributed some of the roadblocks to insufficient staff.

The department needs 50 new positions for a facilities maintenance division, the director said.

“We need our own plumbers, carpenters and electricians,” he said.

Maintenance work, such as repairing a leaky faucet, now goes into a pool where it is prioritized against the needs of other county departments, he said.

Given the economic downturn, Carvalho said he withheld his request to staff the division this year.

Instead, he sought to add six new park rangers to the department’s nearly $10 million budget. The Kaua‘i County Council approved three this spring.

In the previous budget cycle, the council created several new positions for the department. All but a parks planner have been filled, Carvalho said.

The young department with its big visions has in the meantime carried on with its work, which includes administering several initiatives spearheaded by Mayor Bryan Baptiste, who died on June 22 while home recovering from heart surgery.

Now considered a lasting legacy, the department is continuing to push forward with the planned 16-mile multi-use coastal path project.

Carvalho heads an 11-member task force, which submitted its third quarterly report to the council last week, that is working to complete phase 2 of the path.

Some 1.5 miles from Kealia Beach to Lihi boat ramp in Kapa‘a were opened for public use on Feb. 15.

“My task was to get the thing open so the public can use it legally,” Carvalho said.

But a 1.8-mile stretch north from Kealia to Kuna Bay remains under construction. Part of the hold-up was a rockfall study.

That study, completed in December, in part determined that section of the path could not accommodate equestrian use as previously intended, Carvalho said.

It would require millions of dollars to cut into the hillside to widen the path, he said. The county was unwilling to do it.

With that issue addressed, the department expects to finish the 1.8 miles by the end of August or early September, Carvalho said.

The work will entail a signage program to make path users aware of the rockfall risk and the installation of fencing parallel to the path on the mauka side, he said.

This portion will be paved with asphalt instead of concrete, Carvalho said, due to time and money reasons.

The work on this phase will also involve grading the parking lot at Kealia Beach .

On Wednesday, the council will tackle another path issue: dogs. Proposed ordinances would allow leashed dogs on the path under certain conditions.

Carvalho declined to speculate on this brewing controversy.

Residents seem to have mixed feelings on the new department.

Charlie Soto, of Kapa‘a, said the state of parks on the island remains status quo.

He continues to see graffiti at the skatepark and a general lack of action to resolve these types of problems.

But Wailua resident Bonnie Pourchot said she has seen a big difference over the past six months.

There is less rubbish, clean and available benches and drastic improvements at Lydgate Park.

Leslie Pool, of Koloa, said there is still plenty opala, or trash, at Po‘ipu beaches.

“Our current residents and tourist population has exceeded the capacity of our island, not to mention our sadly lacking infrastructure,” she said.

The director has plans for planning.

He is working on a comprehensive maintenance plan that will make routine responsibilities, such as mowing the softball fields, a regularly scheduled task.

A three-year in-house strategic plan is in the works too, Carvalho said. A consultant will be putting it together from now through December.

The council in its most recent budget approved a parks master plan to update the last one from 1977.

The department may hire a consultant to look at the county’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We’re way behind the eight ball on this one,” Carvalho said.

ADA compliance has been part of the delay in opening the campground at Lydgate Park.

“It’s about doing it right the first time,” Carvalho said. “We needed someone to cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s.”

Permitting weddings, commercial boating and food vendors is another issue, he said.

“We can surely manage this better,” Carvalho said. “It’s finding the balance.”

A more visible change in the department may be coming soon, he said, if plans go through to require park workers to wear uniforms.

The director said he wants to build the team atmosphere and create a unique identity for the department.

Still, residents like Patrick Malama say it’s the same people doing the same thing — for good or ill.

Malama said he remains concerned about some Kekaha parks and the system to reserve pavilions.

Others, like Robert Perreira, said they have seen the improvements. Perreira pointed at the quality of care for the ballfields.

They used to be a mess, he said, but are now consistently ready for play.

Residents said they support Carvalho’s plans to utilize volunteers to help the county cut costs and manage the parks better.

The director said he is looking at starting an adopt-a-cemetery program to manage the 18 cemeteries under the department’s responsibility.

Carvalho said he will continue to collaborate with the community on projects, such as restoring Hanama‘ulu Beach Park.

The park was shut down for a month this year for a thorough cleaning. The comfort station will be demolished and replaced. A gate has been installed and boulders will soon be placed along the edge of the beach to manage vehicular access, he said.

Camping at the park will also be restricted, Carvalho said, in part to keep the homeless out. Camping will be allowed with a permit on Thursdays through Saturdays during non-summer months and six days a week in the summer, he said.

For more information, visit www.kauai.gov or call 241-4460.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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