KAPAA — Sawed-off trees and bold signs now mark part of the trail to Hoopii Falls and their message is clear: The trail is closed.
And Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources says now there isn’t a way through to the second set of falls that doesn’t involve trespassing on private land.
The most-traveled trail to Hoopii Falls shoots off a dead-end road in a residential area and leads hikers on a fairly steep downhill slope. The trail meanders beside the Kapaa Stream before cutting uphill to the first waterfall.
That’s where hikers will find “Private property” signs, posted just after the fork in the trail that leads down the hill to the first set of falls, and a wire fence, strung across the pathway.
According to DLNR, the closure was done in response to trespassing on private property by hikers and illegal commercial tour guides using the trails.
The leaseholder could not be reached for comment. But Ward said the problem at Hoopii Falls isn’t a new one.
“DLNR’s Forestry and Wildlife Kauai office has received inquiries in the past about Hoopii Falls from both the private landowners in the area and the people who use the trails,” Ward said.
She said the falls themselves are on state land, but none of the trails in the area are maintained by the state. The state doesn’t post signs in the area and the trails aren’t listed in the state’s inventory.
“The area is not a forest reserve, nor does any state agency promote the use of these ‘social’ trails,” Ward said.
On Monday afternoon, hikers Louis and Amy Benton, from San Diego, said skirted the roadblock by using an unmarked trail that forks off from the base of the hill to the first falls. It follows the river and leads hikers through a tangle of trees similar to the closed trail, but with a less defined path to follow. Eventually the trail meets up with the better-known trail just before entering the grove trees, covered in giant, leafy vines.
They said they eventually made it to the second set of falls, which is a shorter waterfall that ripples over a mass of lava rock into a wide pool with a rope swing dangling in the corner. It’s known for making an appearance in the movie “Jurassic Park.”
“We have the newest edition of the blue book (The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook) and the private property signs and the closure wasn’t in it,” Amy Benton said. “We saw the fence, though and we decided to just take the river trail down to the second falls.”
Louis mentioned that he was glad he took the river trail to the second falls, where the couple took this year’s Christmas card picture, because the scenery was rewarding.
“It’s so beautiful with those huge vines. It reminded me of Predator (the movie),” he joked. “We don’t mind not going down that path if it’s on private property and the owner doesn’t want people walking down there, we respect that.”
Wisconsin natives Andrew Stendahl and Chris Vaughn, also did some exploring around Hoopii Falls on Monday afternoon. They said they ended up taking the river trail to the second falls as well, because the well-marked trail was blocked off. Both Stendahl and Vaughn said they were unaware of why the path was blocked.
“Coming out of the second falls, though, if you walk up the hill just a little bit, there’s a white laminated sign that tells you that you’re on private property and to follow the river out,” Stendahl said.
That sign asks visitors to “Please use river trail to exit — follow river trail back to Hoopii Road, you are on private property. Mahalo.”
Pam Woolway, Kauai resident and hiker, said she supports the closure. She said she “can’t blame” the leaseholder for “fencing off the trail to the second falls.”
“Over the past five years, the traffic into the falls has grown ten-fold. I’ve gone down there and packed out shoes, beer cans and to-go coffee mugs,” Woolway said. “I’ve come across tents where people are camping and behaving with such disrespect of the land they even leave their soiled toilet paper in the bushes.”
The trail that has been closed is now a puzzle of felled trees and precariously positioned branches and there isn’t a legal pathway to the second falls.