NAPALI — Fewer people are squatting in Kauai’s Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park than there were a few months ago.
“Clearly, our focus on enforcing permit rules for the Kalalau area is having the desired result,” said Robert Farrell, enforcement chief with the Department of Land and Natural Resources division of conservation and resources.
DLNR said Tuesday the Kalalau section of the park is in its best shape in decades.
People have noticed
In correspondence received by DLNR last month, Leesha Kawamura of Kauai wrote: “I, along with six other friends went hiking into Kalalau. I have not been there since 2014. I was pleasantly surprised to see how clean the place was compared to the last time. When I first visited and hiked it, it was 2014, I thought it was beautiful but I was sad and disappointed at the abundance of people there and the amount of trash that was piled up.”
She said she was glad DLNR has done the tough work in enforcing permitting, “as it is evident that taking care of our aina is our responsibility.”
The latest enforcement sweep happened Nov. 14 and officers arrested three unpermitted campers as opposed to the dozens commonly found daily by enforcement officers two years ago.
Officers also dismantled a squatter camp on Nov. 14 that DLNR says is an example of the tenacity of some of those living in the valley.
“The camp was reestablished by the time maintenance workers got there the following day,” said DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison.
In late 2015, DOCARE officers members began conducting unannounced, regular enforcement operations where several staff members were transported to the area via helicopter in search of illegal campers.
Over the past 24 months, hundreds of people have been arrested in the Kalalau beach and valley areas.
Most of those illegal campers were given a citation and ordered to appear in court, according to DLNR, and a few were taken into custody and taken to jail.
Dedicated enforcement for the area isn’t in the DOCARE budget, and the unannounced operations were due to an increase of dedicated resources to cleaning up the Kalalau, Farrell said.
“It’s a proactive approach,” he said.
DOCARE teams up with DLNR’s division of state parks to clean up the trash left behind when squatters and campers leave.
Curt Cottrell, state parks administrator, says the area is cleab and his team is pulling about 75 percent less trash out of the area than in previous years.
One key factor in curbing the trash flow has been interrupting the squatters’ supply line.
“Squatters get their supplies through illegal boat and Jet Ski operators,” Farrell said. “Cutting off those supply lines, they run out of food.”
The team has been doing triage work for the past couple of years, trying to restore and preserve Kalalau’s wilderness character, Cottrell said, and now ideally something more permanent will step in.
“We have a good foothold and we need full-time positions in the park,” he said.
Protection of Kalalau’s history and its place in Native Hawaiian culture is also imperative and could be one of the functions of a permanent staffer in the park, Cottrell and Farrell said.
DLNR representative say they’ve already gotten good feedback from their cleanup work.
Daniel and Jennifer McCoy of Washington State visited Kalalau for five nights in May, shortly after DOCARE officers swept the area and arrested 11 non-permitted squatters.
They wrote, “This completed our fifth experience … Upon our arrival into Kalalau we immediately noticed many positive changes. Missing were many of the long-time ‘residents’ that often added an unwelcoming atmosphere to the place, making us feel like we were encroaching on their territory. Gone were the unsightly piles of rubbish generated mostly by those same people.”
DLNR chair Suzanne Case said it’s heartening to receive letters and emails from people who’ve had positive experiences in the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park.
“It helps reinforce that the hard work being done by our parks folks and enforcement officers is paying off and we’re very much closer, than ever before, to restoring the park to its pristine wilderness character,” he said.