KOKEE — For two years, four staff members with the Kauai Na Ala Hele program have trekked into the Alakai Swamp to periodically work on the boardwalk that helps hikers navigate the mud on the trail.
It’s a roughly seven-mile round trip hike through what’s been hailed as the world’s highest elevation rainforest and swamp, a native landscape of shrubs, forest and bogs that offers sightings of endemic and endangered birds and stunning views of sheer cliffs that dive into the Pacific Ocean.
Installed in the 1990s, the boardwalk is only along certain places on the trail and was built to help hikers through the bogs and muddy portions.
Now, it’s rotting away in many places, and the staff with the Kauai Na Ala Hele program is doing what it can to fix it.
“We go up there roughly eight days a month,” said Kawika Smith, Kauai Na Ala Hele program manager. “We have roughly 78 miles of trails to maintain and four staff to do the majority of the maintenance.”
Budget cuts had an impact on the program, as about half of it was cut for this fiscal year.
“We would love to get more funding so that we can continue this wonderful project that serves the public,” Smith said.
The adventure through the Alakai Swamp starts at the Pu’u O Kila Lookout, the last on the line of viewpoints along Kokee Road through the state park. The Pihea Trail starts at the lookout. It’s a two-mile trail of ups and downs, starting with a walk down a dusty hill that has sweeping views on both sides.
That is, if it’s a clear day. Clouds often roll into the valleys later in the day and obstruct the views.
After the two miles on the Pihea Trail, there is a junction with the Alakai Swamp Trail — a sort of four-way stop in the middle of the forest that offers pause to most hikers.
A left at the junction takes you to the Alakai Wilderness Preserve, and a boardwalk that turns into more of a staircase at some points. At the end of it all, the trail opens up unexpectedly to the little Kilohana lookout.
The process of replacing sections of the old redwood boardwalk with recycled plastic lumber material started in December 2015.
In April 2018, heavy rains impacted much of the island, especially on the North Shore, flooding large areas, but officials say the boardwalk itself wasn’t impacted by the torrential rains.
“It did hinder some of the operations to conduct work,” Smith said.
While some of the boardwalk in the Alakai has been replaced by the recycled plastic lumber material, hikers should be aware that other parts of the boardwalk are thin and rotting.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org