PRINCEVILLE — An ocean-access debate rages again in Princeville, with a committee of concerned residents and the Princeville at Hanalei Community Association uniting to find a safe solution for iconic Queen’s Bath.
Handmade and PCHA-generated signs warn of the dangers as you walk along the muddy, rocky trail, but big waves along the cliffs and at Queen’s Bath itself have still pulled people into the ocean, as chronicled in a recent YouTube video. Many individuals have passed away over the decades, and in the name of safety PCHA put a chain-link fence across the trailhead in last October.
Signs say the gate is locked when the area is unsafe and crossing the fence is trespassing. County officials say they open the gate when the treacherous conditions have passed. Less than a day later, according to residents, people were walking around the end of the fence and ignoring all of the warnings.
On several occasions, residents have placed crude signs warning all who take to the trail of the number of people who have died from getting swept out of Queen’s Bath.
In December PCHA extended the fence. It didn’t help. The situation remains. Neighbors estimate 200 to 300 daily visitors walk around the fence on a well-worn path that eventually connects with the main trail.
“That gate has been locked since the beginning of April,” said Ian Miles, staring from his dining-room table at the chain-link fence and the early afternoon throng of visitors walking around it. “It’s creating a disrespect for authority.”
He’s one of several neighbors who watches the action at the Queen’s Bath trailhead daily. He has story after story of people, mostly vacationers, following the crowd around the end of the fence, and even lifting people over the fence to get to the trail.
“The fence obviously isn’t helping anyone,” said Randy Kotsol, another resident who is part of the committee.
And while residents are concerned about the safety — Miles has rescued three people from Queen’s Bath himself over the last 30 years — they’re also concerned about blocking off access to a place that’s part of Kauai’s history as a fertile fishing ground.
Hawaii law, HRS statute 115-3, mandates public rights of way to the shoreline at “a distance at reasonable intervals taking into consideration the topography and physical characteristics of the land the public is desirous of reaching.”
The people who live in the vicinity of the trail don’t want a complete closure.
“No one wants to lose the easements. If we close these things down, it’s forever,” Miles said. “We need to honor the past, take care of the present and preserve for the future generations.”
Public access isn’t technically blocked off because it’s a legal right of way when the gate is open, but members of the Queen’s Bath committee fear the gate will just remain closed indefinitely.
They say there’s a better way.
“We need to educate people that are coming out here. It has to be an opportunity to learn things like don’t take your eyes off the ocean — about the nature of the ocean,” Miles said. “We need education and we need better signs, ones that aren’t knocked over as soon as a set comes through.”
Videos and other material are available about ocean safety through various channels and are aired at Lihue Airport’s baggage claim areas. Committee members say one option to help save lives is to make similar materials specifically about Queen’s Bath.
Closing off the parking lot instead of the trailhead is the other suggestion of the committee, which would also cut down on the traffic and parking disaster that ensues daily.
Kotsol points out heavy traffic in the area as well, and says it adds to the crowds of people on vacation in Princeville, which is a Visitor Destination Area where vacation rentals are allowed.
Meetings were scheduled between the committee and PCHA to talk about the issue. They are hopeful they can maintain public access to the shoreline and spark new initiatives to keep visitors safe.
“Princeville is a microcosm for what’s happening to beach access all across the state,” Miles said. “We want to find solutions that can keep public access open.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.