HANALEI — Access and safety at Kee were among the top concerns at the Hanalei School Cafeteria on Tuesday, as community members gathered to hear updates about the Hanakapiai Bridge project and the Haena State Park Master Plan.
And when it comes to both projects, the about 75 people at the meeting were concerned about the growing number of people on the island.
“I grew up here, and in that time the rate of growth is incredible,” said Bristol Lantagne of Kilauea. “We rely on tourism, but the residents have been put on the back burner.”
Lantagne hasn’t been up to Kee in two years, she said, because there are so many people that crowd the park.
The Haena State Park Master Plan, which has been in the works for a decade, aims to tackle that problem by limiting parking in the state park to 900 per day.
The park gets an estimated 2,000 visitors per day, said Alan Carpenter of the Department of Land and Natural Resources State Parks Division, who was presenting on Tuesday.
The state is looking at ways to ensure legal access to the park for residents at all times, and is considering the establishment of operating hours within the park to help curb the flow of people.
“We’re using adaptive management for parking. If it doesn’t work, we’ll adjust and make changes,” Carpenter said. “There’s still a lot of tweaking to do; we’re not going to start limiting parking tomorrow.”
And while they consider limiting parking through the Haena State Park Master Plan, the state is also looking at installing a four-foot wide, 82-foot long, aluminum bridge over the crossing at Hanakapiai Stream.
DLNR estimates three-quarters of a million people annually visit Na Pali Coast State Park. Many visitors cross Hanakapiai Stream, then head up the valley to Hanakapiai Falls. That involves two more miles of hiking and four or five more stream crossings. Those who continue on down the Kalalau Trail from the falls are required to have a permit from DLNR, and that journey offers dangers of its own that have stranded many adventurers on the Na Pali Coast.
In 2016, DLNR closed the trail to hikers 27 times due to high flooding events.
“I think building a bridge encourages more people to go out there and many of them feel invincible,” Lantagne said. “But I want to hear what the fire department says about it; I’m open to what the guys that are doing the rescues have to say.”
Aukai Lee, a captain with the fire department in Hanalei, took questions at the Tuesday meeting and said he was “legitimately concerned” about Kauai’s rescuers when they are responding to strandings and other incidents at Hanakapiai.
“You can imagine how dangerous it is for us to have to go in and fly people out,” Lee said. “We’re trying to protect them and we’re trying to protect us as responders. A wall of water can come out of nowhere and sweep you into the ocean.”
Carpenter said those are exactly the reasons why the state is considering the project.
“People do take risks going in both directions,” he said. “This will serve to save some of those people from risk.”