Haena park opening nears

  • Photo by Allan Parachini

    Work continues at Haena State Park.

State park officials have set March 30 as the projected completion date for the total reconstruction of public facilities at Haena State Park.

This development comes after months of addressing storm-related damage on Kuhio Highway and within the park itself and taking that opportunity to push through a full rebuild that will reduce the number of visitors by half and help native plants and animals to thrive there.

Unfortunately, it may be several more months into 2019 before the public can legally enter the reconceived Haena park because Kuhio Highway — the only access to the park — is closed indefinitely for repair after those same devastating April storms. The park will only reopen to people who live in the Hanalei-Haena area until the Kuhio Highway reconstruction is complete, officials say.

After the park is fully reopened, the number of people who can go there per day will drop from about 2,000 who visited daily before the April storms to about 900.

Details of the construction and planning were assembled by The Garden Island from interviews, documents and other materials late last week and over this past weekend. The estimated cost of the park modifications is about $2 million, according to Department of Land and Natural Resources.

It is all part of Kauai’s first deliberative plan to reduce tourist volumes at one of the island’s most revered destinations.

The goal is to balance the needs of the land and culture to remain comparatively undisturbed and to keep the tourist presence from adversely impacting the landscape and crowding out local people trying to get to sites that have special meaning — spiritual and otherwise.

Nearly 20 years of effort had already gone into formulating a new master plan for Haena park before the storms came. It was previously assumed that budget and other constraints would prevent full implementation of the park plan for several years. But the storm-related highway closure and sudden availability of government recovery funding changed that outlook entirely and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has moved ahead quickly on several fronts.

When the park is finally accessible to the general public, with current estimates of June at the earliest, but more likely several months later — here are some of the changes that will be most noticeable:

• The parking lot is being entirely rebuilt and will have an absolute limit of 100 spaces. No parking will be permitted on the highway. More aggressive no parking sign placement and enforcement will place strict limits on the number of visitors who can drive into the park.

• At the same time, the plan ensures that local residents can have reasonably unfettered access to the park, with no entry fees, free spaces in the lot and no need for advance reservations. A driver’s licenses or state ID card will be serve as identification for anyone using the spaces reserved for local residents.

• All non-resident visitors will be required to get online-issued passes to enter Haena State Park. Initially, the cost will be $1 per person or $5 per car, but rule-making efforts are envisioned to triple those fees — or more — to create as significant a maintenance fund as possible through charging tourists.

• Parking at the end of Kuhio Highway inside the park immediately adjacent to the lifeguard tower —which has been the parking configuration for generations — will be closed and placed largely off limits because the area is prone to potentially deadly rock slides. All parking in the park will be in the central lot.

• The lot will be served by a shuttle, which visitors will be encouraged to use, but that will also be available to residents as well. Planning for the shuttle operation is proceeding independently, as DLNR lacks the power and resources to undertake such a service itself.

• Newly developed paths and a boardwalk path will lead visitors from the parking lot to Ke‘e Beach, limiting damage to vegetation and animal life. Loi and other agricultural activities will operate continuously within the park.

• Four new staff positions — a park manager and three rangers — will police the park, ensuring that anyone camping on the Napali Coast has a permit to do so and monitoring camper activities. They will also be responsible for overall park security.

• Overnight parking by camping permit holders will be prohibited and campers will be encouraged to use the shuttle or have friends drop them off. Entry to the Kalalau Trail will not resume until Kuhio Highway completely reopens, so hikers of all types will have to wait for that project to be finished.

Alan Carpenter, the DLNR official charged with implementing the Haena park plan, said he is acutely aware that the new system will represent marked changes for everyone who uses the park — visitor or resident.

Although Carpenter appreciates the opportunity created by the extended closure of Kuhio Highway, he believes a “soft opening” of the park, in which only residents and people with special county-issued passes can go there, will create a laboratory to perfect the change the broader public will eventually experience.

Access will be limited to people who can prove they reside between Hanalei and Ke‘e Beach or individuals who receive special permits to perform work or conduct other authorized business in the closure zone. It is the same restriction as has applied under a series of emergency orders signed by former Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and current Mayor Derek Kawakami.

“If we do this perfectly, I’m not going to hear any complaints,” Carpenter said of the plan — especially concerning reservations for visiting tourists. “If we do it only well, then the people we’ll hear from are tourists.”

“We’re trying to solve a problem that’s been affecting this local, rural community for far too long, but there are going to be some bumps along the road. We obviously aren’t selling tickets now. When we get open, there will be a very short advance purchase period at the beginning.”

That means, he said, that parks officials will have to work very hard — and fast — to spread the word among visitors and local people alike that the park is open again, and what the restrictions are.

“We’re going to adjust as we go along. This is adaptive management,” he said, “and that requires some uncertainty.”

DLNR lacks authority to take action against illegal parking on Kuhio Highway, so state Rep. Nadine Nakamura, who formed an ad hoc transportation committee with locals, officials and other stakeholders last year, plans to reintroduce a bill that enables parking fines to be raised from $35 to $150.

Among visitor officials, there is broad recognition that a $35 parking fine is insufficient to deter someone who has spent thousands of dollars on a Kauai vacation from parking illegally and paying a small fine. Parking in many major cities can cost $40 an hour, so a $35 fine to park illegally at one of the world’s iconic sites is worth the price of admission.

Nakamura said plans are under discussion to provide for tow-away parking enforcement on Kuhio Highway throughout Haena so the limitations on parking and access at the park will not simply result in hundreds of rental cars littering highway shoulders throughout the community.

Part of the problem up until now is that existing state law gives no share of parking fine money to local law enforcement agencies that issue the tickets.

The bill Nakamura plans to offer would change that so that police agencies could, for example, hire civilian parking enforcement officers. Existing law, she said, permits such officers but provides no way to pay their salaries.

“The tricky thing about the North Shore is it’s like a puzzle,” Nakamura said. “We have to put up the signs and it’s fines or tow-away. The fine might go up to $200. But there have to be places where limited street parking could be permitted for surfers and local fishermen.

“A third part is the shuttle. The idea is to discourage visitors from going out there in single occupancy vehicles. Then the idea is now to get people on the shuttle and whether they start their trips in Kilauea, Princeville or elsewhere.”

Nakamura conceded that her effort to push through the legislation last year failed. That’s not uncommon for new bills that seek to make significant change, she said.

“It’s a complicated situation. We’re trying to think outside of the box,” she said. “Often, to get it right, you have to go through this process multiple times.”

13 Comments
  1. Craig Callaway January 15, 2019 5:52 am Reply

    Terrific! It sounds like this has been thought through thoroughly. No doubt there will be bumps along the way, but all well-intended locals and visitors will get through it.


  2. Suzan Kelsey Brooks January 15, 2019 10:11 am Reply

    This plan has merit; but access should not be limited to those living in the Hanalei to Ke’e area but must be expanded to include all local (Kauai) residents. Otherwise, millions of tax dollars will be spent providing a publicly funded park and amenities to the private few. Certainly, tourists/visitors to the island can wait; but how long can a public park be maintained as if it were a private club?


    1. Allan Parachini January 15, 2019 3:30 pm Reply

      Ms. Brooks: I think you misunderstood. The story says anyone with a Hawaii driver’s license will have no-reservation, free access, so it applies to everyone who lives on island. Thanks.


    2. Melissa Hedsrom January 15, 2019 3:46 pm Reply

      It’s a little confusing but the limit to only NS residents is temporary and will include all once they have the road open and a few other details worked out I believe


  3. Jana January 15, 2019 3:20 pm Reply

    have avoided the area for the last few years due to the overcrowding. Over run with both locals and tourists. Looking forward to visiting when the number of people visiting is restricted.


  4. Jana January 15, 2019 3:22 pm Reply

    a shuttle for both locals and visitors would be nice.


  5. JB January 15, 2019 3:41 pm Reply

    hopefully this will not turn into another locals beach like Anahola. What a trash dump that place is now.


  6. Jim Sherman January 15, 2019 5:55 pm Reply

    Did I just read that the taxpayers of Kauai county are paying for a private recreational park they are not allowed to use if they do not live west of Hanalei? This must be illegal to use of taxpayer money to fund private use activity that benefits only a few. I think everyone that lives in Hanalei and east of it should be given a tax refund for the time they are not allowed to use the Ke’e Beach park when those that are west of Hanalei are allowed to use the finished recreational park. This must be an illegal use of taxpayer dollars. Someone correct me if I am wrong.


  7. Fayda kaill January 15, 2019 7:28 pm Reply

    This is a state highway and the other residents of Kauai, and tourists should be allowed to use it. It is absurd the extreme measures taken in the interest of the residents. There should be a toll set up at Hanalei for the residents to pay each time they use the road going out of their territory


  8. Hal Gant January 15, 2019 7:59 pm Reply

    Describing this area as a, “Rural Community,” is a joke. This legalizes wealthy home owners limiting public access to the beaches of Kauai. I especially find it humorous that there will be, “…limited street parking…” for surfers and fishermen. Will they need a bumper sticker that says, “Dude?”


  9. GardenGirl January 15, 2019 8:29 pm Reply

    Please read the article more carefully before you start criticizing your neighbors. Access to the park will be open to all Kauai residents once the road itself opens. The park will be ready to re-open before the road out to Wainiha and Ha’ena is ready to re-open. We’re not trying to cut you all off.


  10. Ted Mack January 16, 2019 6:01 am Reply

    The fact that the local community does not get to keep traffic related fines has always amazed me. There is no incentive for local law enforcement to expend resources on enforcement of this minor crime if it does not justify the cost. If Kauai got to keep traffic fines you would see a marked increase in traffic enforcement and perhaps fewer fatal accidents on our deadly main highway.


  11. Kevin Ridge January 16, 2019 11:14 am Reply

    I think the plan as outlined is a good start. My fear is that regulations, fees and limits at the parks will result in huge increases in traffic and parking problems in the residential areas near other beach access points. Tourism is a double edged sword, on one side you must deal with the traffic and overcrowding while on the other side the island needs their money to survive. There is an answer out there but in the end it is likely nobody will be overjoyed with the results. We will all have to live with some sort of compromise.


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