Last Saturday, I went to the open house where the latest iteration of the master plan for Haena State Park was under discussion. It’s a logically reasoned review of what needs to happen at Kee Beach if it, the Kalalau Trail and the Na Pali Coast are to survive.
The open house was for local residents and began at 10 a.m. Of course, it would typically have been impossible for attendees to find anywhere to park, so the organizers reserved part of the “overflow” parking lot. Otherwise, every space and every spot on the road was taken — all of the cars on the road parked illegally. People ambled down the highway, creating hazards for themselves and drivers alike.
Nothing could be a better commentary on what has to happen with this plan. It has been years in the making and represents a laudable amount of community outreach. The plan details are straightforward. Since its last presentation at a public meeting a few months ago, the plan has been massaged to more specifically assure no-cost access for local people.
It will still limit daily park attendance to 900 people — less than half the number who usually show up today. Access roads and parking would be redesigned. The Kee dunes would be restored and native vegetation would return to areas where it has not been present in decades.
But when I spoke with Alan Carpenter, the Division of Land and Natural Resources official in charge of seeing the plan through, it confirmed something that has been on my mind for months. Given that the plan still has to complete the environmental review process and then find funding and deal with a complex of land ownership, political and other challenges, there isn’t going to be any visible result for at least two, maybe five and possibly 10 years.
But anyone who’s been out there in the last five (more, actually) years understands that the beach, the trail and the Na Pali are in crisis right now. The ecology of Haena State Park probably does not have two, five or 10 years to wait before human activity does it in forever.
The problem is not Kee Beach. The huge numbers that overwhelm the park come for day hikes. If trail use can be controlled and logically reduced, most of the congestion from which the park suffers now would disappear.
So the challenge — which the plan necessarily does not address — is what to do immediately to keep the park alive until permanent solutions can be found. Think of this as CPR. Two criteria govern these emergency fixes. First, they must be practically possible and immediate. Second, they must be as close to cost-free as possible.
I don’t claim authorship of any of these ideas. All of them, from what I could find out, have occurred to people who know far more about Haena State Park than I do. Steps have been and are being taken to explore implementation of some. I write this to support these steps, not to seek any credit for thinking of them. I didn’t.
Step 1: Ban overnight parking — say, 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. — throughout the park. I visited at about 5 a.m. twice in the last couple of weeks and there were at least a half-dozen cars at the end of the road (between half and all of them rentals) and between four and 15 cars in the parking lot nearby. All of those vehicles were, presumably, left by backpackers on the Kalalau Trail.
Step 2: Enforce the overnight parking prohibition through no-exception tow-away regulations. That would mean, of course, that a contractor would have to be found who would take this towing account and a location would have to be identified to which the vehicles would be taken.
Step 3: Completely and consistently enforce existing no-parking regulations on the road into the park. Some parts of the road should be tow-away zones 24 hours a day to ensure emergency vehicle access. Easier said than done since the state controls the park and is, theoretically, responsible for parking enforcement. Except the state is incapable of doing that, so the Kauai Police Department goes out to issue tickets as often as officers can be spared, which is not often enough. A solution must be found. Money will have to be involved.
Step 4: Implement a permit system for day hikers on the Kalalau Trail and vigorously enforce the existing permit requirement for overnight camping. Both day and night trail permits would be limited in number, distributed by online reservation or sale at cooperating merchant locations. The rub is there would have to be rigorous enforcement, meaning someone would have to be stationed at the trailhead at all times to check permits and turn away people who don’t have them.
Step 5: The existing parking lot is due for interim repair through funding of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. When the repairs are finished, the element of the plan would be implemented that would divide the parking lot into two sections — one for visitors, who would need reservations and pay a fee, and the other for local people who could visit to take cultural and environmental advantage of this resource without cost. This could be paid for by operating the lot on a business-like basis.
Step 6: Identify an off-site auxiliary parking lot from which park visitors could take a shuttle to the park. The plan envisions doing this, but what’s apparently under consideration is a lot at the outlook near the Princeville Foodland that is 5.2 acres and could accommodate about 120 cars. But several government agencies and the private land owner would have to come to agreement and the facility would have to be built. That should happen, but the urgent need is now, so the existing parking lot at the Princeville Airport could be used. The restored North Shore shuttle will apparently be starting at or near that lot. The lot is privately owned, so a deal would have to be struck. Parking fees would be charged.
Step 7: Offer a package deal for campers planning to be in the park overnight that includes parking at the auxiliary lot, fare for the shuttle and a trail permit reservation for one price — maybe $10.
This whole process would require a well-executed public education strategy. None of these steps, alone, will solve Haena State Park’s immediate problems. All of them taken together might buy enough time for the well-formulated master plan to come into its own.
Allan Parachini is a former journalist and PR executive. He is a Kilauea resident.