Kokee master plan approved

LIHUE — The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources unanimously signed off on a master plan for Kokee and Waimea Canyon state parks, effectively ending a decade-long tug of war between the state and the Kauai community. 

While the Kokee State Park Advisory Council has continued to oppose certain portions of the document, specifically the entry station to collect user fees from non-residents, it was successful in moving the plan away from revenue generation and commercialization and toward preservation and protection, according to members Chipper Wichman and Erik Coopersmith.

“It has been really a very community-involved process, there have been countless community meetings,” Wichman said in a video posted to the Department of Land and Natural Resources site Monday. “The community finds Kokee to be one of the unique and special, really sacred areas, of our island, and so they’ve been really engaged in terms of being part of the planning process.” 

The approved plan includes an entry station with a 100-square-foot gated booth for collecting fees from non-residents only, as well as a 500-square-foot roadside support building. It will be located near mile marker 6.9, north of the junction of Waimea Canyon Drive and Kokee Road.

Wichman said the KSPAC worked hard over the years to revise the state plan, voice community concern and find middle ground.

During a public meeting in late March, the KSPAC voted unanimously to approve the final draft, but attached objections to the entry station as well as its location, which will require the DLNR to take over control of a larger portion of the road from the Department of Transportation.

The Board approved the final draft Oct. 24 as submitted (without amendments), which includes the entry station, according to DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward.

In the end, Wichman said State Parks made many compromises, but that KSPAC and the Kauai community had to “agree to disagree” on the entry station.

“They felt that it was critical that they maintain the ability to generate revenue there,” he said in the video.

Wichman could not be reached for comment this week.

The state’s original proposal — drawn up in 2003 by DLNR officials and a consultant — included a 40- to 60-room hotel with a restaurant, a park entry gate to collect user fees from both residents and non-residents, new overlooks above Waimea Valley and a souvenir store at Waimea Canyon Lookout.

Over the years, however, the voluntary council managed to get rid of or amend several of those proposals.

The KSPAC has recommended moving the entry station further up the mountain.

Coopersmith said that while the plan has been approved, it still must be funded and that the KSPAC and community must remain vigilant and continue to monitor what is happening in the park.

Over the years, he said he feels the community has been clear about what it sees as the future of the sacred park. 

The master plan, he said, has “really been transformed to something the community can really be proud of.”

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