WAILUA — Nearly three months behind the original schedule, the Wailua portion of the Ke Ala Hele Makalae, or the path that goes along the coast, quietly opened Friday.
“I love it,” Canadian visitor Debbie Dykes said Tuesday morning.
She and Steve Galipeau of British Columbia are staying at Aloha Beach Resort in Wailua and had been using the path for three days, unaware it just opened.
South African surfer Amy Oakes arrived with her boyfriend on Kauai a month ago, and they plan to spend the next five months exploring the Garden Isle. They are staying at Waipouli and used the path a few times, she said.
Oakes said her native Cape Town has many walkways but they are much different than the Ke Ala Hele Makalae.
“It’s nice, with the trees all over,” she said of the path, adding that it’s not a “scary path” because the wall protects users from the traffic.
Before the county rolled the Wailua project forward six months ago, the administration spent years responding to concerns from Native Hawaiians regarding potential burials in the area where the path was to be built. But an archaeological survey found just modern trash underground.
There were also some who said the path would go over an area that once had a sacred heiau. Protests led to the arrest of Raymond Catania and James Alalem earlier this year, though both men were released the same day and the charges against them were later dropped.
The original schedule called for construction of the Wailua portion of path to be finished by the end of March. Then the project was postponed twice, first to April and then to the end of June. It has been open for a few days, but county spokeswoman Mary Daubert said there is no date set for an official inauguration.
The Wailua portion of the path adds a little more than a quarter of mile, at a cost of $1.9 million, to the entire Ke Ala Hele Makalae, according to Daubert.
Another portion of the path, from the Safeway parking lot in Waipouli to Lihi Park, was also opened Friday. The nearly three-quarters-of-a-mile stretch cost $3.4 million, she said.
Most of the funding from the path comes from federal government through the state Department of Transportation. The county contributes with a match, and in some occasions it is an in-kind match. The portion connecting Safeway and Lihi Park goes through Niulani and Moanakai roads, both converted to one-way traffic to accommodate the path. Traffic at Niulani Road now flows southbound and traffic on Moanakai Road now flows northbound until the intersection with Panihi Road.
So far, the Ke Ala Hele Makalae has 8.17 miles finished, according to Daubert. From Kuna Bay, also known as Donkey Beach, to Lihi Park there are 4.5 miles. From Lihi Park to Safeway there are .72 miles.
There is a gap between Safeway and Papaloa Road of about a half-mile.
“We haven’t finalized the layout for that segment yet,” Daubert said.
At Papaloa Road, the path restarts and goes for .38 miles until Wailua Beach, where the path has .27 miles. From Kuamoo Road to Lydgate Park and adjacent areas, the path has 2.3 miles, according to Daubert.
The path, one of Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.’s 38 projects in his Holo Holo 2020 vision, seeks to ultimately connect Lihue to Anahola.
“During his inaugural speech titled Holo Holo 2020, Mayor Carvalho spoke about his vision for Kauai in the year 2020, which includes constructing as many segments of Ke Ala Hele Makalae as possible,” Daubert said.
At this time, she said, the administration cannot say when the entire path will be completed as the rest of the segments are in the environmental assessment phase.
Wailua resident and massage therapist Diana Howard said it would be nice to have a path where people can ride their bicycles from Kapaa to Lihue. “I would object to it if they put it in places where there are remote beaches,” she said. Dykes and Galipeau said the only thing missing at Wailua is someone renting bicycles.
“They need a bike rental business right there at the end of the beach,” said Dykes, pointing to Wailua River.
The Canadian visitors did not have a car, but said they might rent one during their two-week stay on Kauai.
Oakes said she comes from the city, and was “shocked” to see so many cars on Kauai. The Garden Isle is so beautiful, with so many mountains and beaches, but the number of cars on the road ruin a little bit of the island’s vibe, she said.
“More people should be walking; they should make public transportation more accessible,” she said. “And when you look at it, it’s only one person in the car.”
“They shouldn’t allow so many cars,” Oakes said, before getting off the path and walking toward the sand at Wailua Beach, with her Surf Diva surfboard under her arm.