NAPALI — The Kalalau Valley is world renown for its majestic scenery and breathtaking wilderness.
The prospect of hiking the 11 miles into the valley to camp is one that draws thousands of visitors from various corners of the globe, as well as from the island’s own backyard.
It’s also a closed area, meaning you have to have a valid camping permit to go past the two-mile mark of the hike.
Because of that, it’s a nest of illegal camping activity and ground zero for periodic enforcement sweeps by the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement.
For the past nine months, DLNR’s senior communications specialist, Dan Dennison, has been documenting the DOCARE sweeps of the Na Pali Coast and has created a 30-minute documentary. It’s titled “Renegades, Risks and Rewards of the Na Pali Coast,” and the documentary is set to air this weekend on KFVE-TV (K5).
Dennison said he backpacked into the valley before creating the documentary and is passionate about preserving the area. He said he went in with a state parks maintenance crew late last year, and wanted to document their cleanup operations.
“I don’t recall it ever being so overrun with illegal campers,” Dennison said, “and I thought, this is something we really need to get our arms around.”
So, he took a high-definition video camera and dedicated some time to following the enforcement efforts of Kauai Branch Chief with DLNR’s DOCARE, Francis “Bully” Mission, and his team.
Mission said the department branch has been doing the cleanup sweeps for many, many years, and the sweeps happen according to the budget.
“We try to go as much as possible looking for unpermitted individuals,” Mission said. “We usually have one or two flights bringing in officers.”
The department flies officers in from Hanalei or Kokee, and then once they land, the sweep starts. Illegal campers, those without a permit secured before leaving, are cited and then the enforcement team moves on.
“We don’t hang around and watch them leave or anything, we have them pack up and leave and we move on to check more people in the area,” Mission said.
This year, up until April, DOCARE has cited 104 illegal campers, and has pulled all sorts of rubbish out of the valley – including air mattresses and lawn furniture. They also arrested Francis “Alekai” Kinimaka of Hanalei after he landed a Jet Ski on Kalalau Beach and was cited with four petty misdemeanors.
Mission said there is a history of hikers paying Jet Ski and zodiac operators to transport items, or people, to and from the beach. A news release sent to The Garden Island on Tuesday said passengers report paying the drivers between $125 and $150 for a ride.
“On the documentary you can see, they’re lifting up and taking out lawn chairs and those types of things,” Mission said. “It’s not impossible, but it’s highly unlikely to carry that 11 miles on your back into the valley.”
In 2013, DOCARE cited 90 unpermitted campers, in 2014 it was 51, and in 2015 there were 22 citations issued for unpermitted camping.
“Pretty much every trip we’re citing people,” Mission said.
Mission said the increase in citations in 2016 is due to the capture of more money in the budget for sweeps – but he credits DLNR’s new chairwoman, Suzanne Case as the real instigator for the increased money flow.
“Her passion and dedication to clean up the Na Pali (coast) and keep it pristine is one of the reasons why we’re able to capture more money to fly,” Mission said. “Her support is the reason why there’s a renewed enforcement effort in Na Pali.”
In the release, Case said DLNR’s DOCARE and DLNR’s division of state parks are working together to bring Kalalau closer to “it’s true wilderness character” under her administration.
“It’s discouraging to see all the illegals disrespect the ‘aina and impact cultural sites by supporting a higher number of people than the park can sustain,” Case said. “We want to be on the record that DLNR is serous about shutting down commercial activity which has allowed illegal campers to bring in hundreds of tons of rubbish, simply to be left at Kalalau for staff to clean up and dispose of.”
According to the release, in the first quarter of 2016, enforcement officers bagged and airlifted more than four tons of trash from the valley, and shoveled 2,400 pounds of human waste from composting toilets. That waste went into six barrels that were also flown out of Kalalau.
“It shouldn’t be that kind of experience,” Mission said. “Some people book reservations to go to Kalalau a year in advance and then they get here and the best campsites are taken by illegal campers.”
“Renegades, Risks and Rewards of the Na Pali Coast” will air at 6:30 p.m.April 30 and will have a repeat showing 7 p.m. May 1 . The show will also be available online at Hawaii DLNR’s website.
Dennision said the documentary isn’t the last DLNR will be producing – he has one on Kauai’s endangered seabirds, as well as the endangered forest birds slated for release later this year.
“There’s more to come,” Dennision said.
Jessica Else, enviromental reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or email@example.com.