WAIMEA CANYON — It was during World War I in Serbia when a schoolmistress fell in love with a soldier and the two made a commitment to be together forever.
According to the popular tale, that promise lasted about as long as it took for the Serbian officer to reach Greece, where he fell in love with a local woman and broke off the engagement to his hometown honey.
The slighted schoolmistress is rumored to have died of a broken heart, and as a protection against such a devastating blow, her peers began to take precautions.
They started writing down their own names, with the names of their loved ones, on padlocks. Then they fixed them to the bridge where the two original lovers used to meet. They’d throw away the key as a final farewell — hopefully — to any chance of their romance crumbling.
Nearly 100 years later, the tradition of safeguarding against unrequited love has continued throughout Europe and has spread to the rest of the world.
The tradition, known today as “love locks,” has even shown up on Kauai.
“Hawaii State Parks is aware of the popularity of ‘love locks’ that has been an international fad,” said Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. “While it seems to be a relatively new occurrence on Kauai, it has been going on for several years at our popular Kaiwi State Scenic Wayside Park in East Oahu.”
Ward said State Parks is posting signs on Oahu to inform visitors that the practice is a littering violation, and requesting that the practice stops.
“State Parks staff have removed large numbers from the railings at our lookout (on Oahu) and keys from the bushes, and continue to do so weekly,” Ward said. “Locks contribute to rusting damage and premature deterioration of the metal railing.”
On Kauai, most of the “love locks” can be found at the lookouts in Waimea Canyon, where lovers can send the key, and possibly any potential for a broken relationship, to the bottom of the gorge.
For DLNR, the practice is just as unwelcome on Kauai as it is on Oahu, but there aren’t any signs posted discouraging the tradition.
“Although Kauai is considered one of the world’s most romantic islands, a metal ‘love lock’ placed on a fence at the Waimea Canyon lookout puts the public in jeopardy,” said director of economic development, George Costa. “In addition, it really is out of place in this pristine environment.”
Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, is worried the practice could get out of hand.
“I do know what started out as a cute trend in some popular visitor destinations around the world, has become a nuisance and even a hazard for some of those same areas,” Kanoho said.
One example is Paris, where the tradition is very popular and the weight of the massive number of locks caused damage to historic bridges.
“I would rather have Waimea Canyon and all other state and county parks remain clean and pristine for our residents and visitors,” Kanoho said.
Jessica Else, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or email@example.com.