Land company blocks access to popular waterfall

PUHI — For generations locals and visitors have enjoyed Puhi’s relatively hidden Kipu Falls, with its deep pool ideal for swimming, its rock ledge for diving and its popular rope swing.

Access to the falls has traditionally meant hiking across land owned by Grove Farm. The land management and community development company announced Wednesday that it has begun building a fence that will block access to the falls from Grove Farm land.

“The extremely difficult decision to fence off access to Kipu Falls was made following several lawsuits being filed against Grove Farm Company,” Grove Farm officials said in a news release. Grove Farm spokeswoman Marissa Sandblom said she could not comment further about the lawsuits other than they were initiated by persons injured at Kipu Falls.    

In addition to installing an eight-foot high, 775-foot long chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and more “private property” and “no trespassing” signage, Grove Farm is placing boulders alongside the road to block access for parking. Vehicles parked illegally along the road will be towed at the owner’s expense. Off-duty police officers have been hired to patrol the area.

“We don’t enjoy putting up this fence but there have been too many accidents and tragedies at the site,” Grove Farm President and CEO Warren Haruki said in a written statement. “Everyone who has visited Kipu Falls without permission has trespassed on private property. Many attempts to change guidebook language and to dissuade people unfamiliar with the area have not been heeded, and we have decided to restrict access to the site.”

Haruki added, “In many ways, this is very similar to the closings of the popular Waipahee Slippery Slides near Anahola and the Kilauea Slide. In both of those prior cases, similar concerns about safety and injuries led to their eventual closures.”

Sandblom said Grove Farm explored “a whole slew of alternatives” to blocking access, such as conveying the area to Kaua‘i County for a park, “but they didn’t want to do that because of liability issues.”

Dr. Monty Downs, an emergency room doctor at Wilcox Memorial Hospital, said there has been a “huge crescendo” in deaths and injuries at Kipu Falls during the last 10 to 15 years. Five people have died at the falls during the last five years alone; all the deaths were male visitors, he said.

“We commend Grove Farm for taking the initiative to do what it is doing,” said Downs, who is also a member of the Kaua‘i Water Safety Task Force. “I’ve seen too many tragedies come through the emergency room over the years to turn a blind eye to what has been going on.”

Downs recalled “a beautiful 18-year-old volleyball star from California” who was rendered a quadriplegic from injuries at the falls.

Most recently, a 32-year-old man from Irvine, Calif., died on June 25 when, according to witnesses and county officials, he jumped off the top of the falls into the pool below, began swimming across the pool toward the shore, suddenly went under and did not resurface.

“I will be very saddened that yet another special area is to be taken away from local people, who may enjoy spending time there,” Downs said. “But Kipu Falls is no place for visitors, they don’t have the background to recognize the dangers and risks, and they have been getting killed or injured far too regularly … Neither I nor Grove Farm can figure out a way to have Kipu Falls be accessible to the local people only, it’s just too tempting for visitors to want to get in on the exotic ‘local experience.’ So, with a respectful nod to a significant segment of our local people, it’s clear in my mind that the benefit of taking away access to the area outweighs the downside of it.”

Sandblom emphasized that the decision to block access was not made lightly and expressed hope that the community will understand the decision was one of necessity.

Grove Farm is sending a notice to guidebook publishers informing them of the blocked access.

Sandblom said the owners of Grove Farm’s neighboring property, Rice Ranch, will be monitoring their property frequently for trespassers attempting access to Kipu Falls.  

• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or by emailing vvanvoorhis@thegardenisland.com.

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