Kalalau needs people

Mahalo to the dedicated trail crew who opened the Kalalau Trail after one year. It was surely a huge task in hot weather. Now we can hope that hikers can help kick rocks out of the trail. We can all do our part.

Now, after a year of closure, the Kalalau Valley is a mess. But the pali are as majestic as ever!

During this year with minimal human presence, invasive species, both plants and animals, have taken over large swaths of the valley. Hungry pigs, which can throw two litters per year with up to 12 piglets per litter, have consumed most of the edible plants and rooted up cumulative acres of land. Goats, usually high on the ridges, now populate the valley, and have decimated most edible plants, including some endangered ones.

Many invasive plants have taken over thousands of acres, even up the valleys and ridges. Trails are often overgrown and unrecognizable. The most encroaching invasive plants are running bamboo, yellow oleander, sisal agave, yellow ginger, lantana, broom sedge, mouse berry, beggars’ tick, woodrose vine, thimble berry and the ever-present java plum.

As I understand it, DLNR (state Department of Land and Natural Resources) does not allow camping in the Kalalau Valley. But I would like to share some information that could help in the state’s decision-making as climate change and corresponding ecological changes escalate.

When people, both permitted and unpermitted, were in the valley, the invasive species could be largely kept in check. Nomadic visitors who often camped up-valley illegally were likely to help tame the overpopulation of unwanted species and protect the endangered ones.

One such group played “Project Poker” weekly for at least four years, and the winner would choose a day-long volunteer work project to serve the precious aina. This resulted in hundreds of hours of volunteer work. Many environmentally conscious visitors did their part in keeping trails clear and safe, cutting brush, pulling out invasives, removing trash and boulders, and hunting the overpopulated goats and pigs. All this activity helps the park and the ecology, even though it was historically considered illegal by DLNR. The times are rapidly changing, and we can change with them. Tempora mutantur et nos mutamo in illis (Latin for “Times are changed, we are also changed with them”).

Environmental organizations have long understood that native, nature-based communities are the greatest asset against the deterioration of wilderness areas, because these groups and tribes are invested in their aina and therefore become true stewards of the land. We can copy this successful model.

The ever-changing nomadic outlaws, aka the Kalalau Ohana, have been in the valley for decades, and follow the tradition of the original outlaw: Ko‘olau the leper, who fled with his wife, Pi‘ilani, and their son, Kaleimanu, to Kalalau in 1893 (see Jack London’s short story). Dedicated volunteers of this ohana shoulder the stewardship of the valley, and like native groups, they take responsibility for the land that feeds them. Hawaiian plants like kalo, and many other food species, have gone native in the valley. The first food trees, introduced many decades ago, were coconut, mango, orange, banana and tamarind. Java plum and guava were seeded by air over thousands of acres. The pigs had plenty to eat, and multiplied with gusto. Kalalau needs hunters and dedicated volunteers, now more than ever, and hopefully with an agreement from DLNR, and on a regular basis until the feral invasion is reduced.

So far, DLNR has not differentiated between the two types of “outlaws:” those who serve and give, and those who trash and take. It could make a big difference in the valley to bring that difference to light, and legitimize the bona fide eco-volunteers. It would take a large burden off taxpayers who foot the bill.

For at least 200 years, Kalalau has served as a food source, first to generations of Hawaiians, then to ranchers, the Taylor Camp hippies, and now environmentalists and others.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the rangers and the outlaws: the rangers are paid to destroy the illegal camps, and the volunteer “outlaws” clean up the mess and take the trash to a helicopter site where it can be flown out. This has also been going on for decades. It is just one example of how the park system would not be able to keep up with the maintenance without this hidden and publicly maligned volunteer help. Volunteer Marine, Bill Summers, who camped at mile eight, kept the trail safe for four years, gave advice, administered first aid and probably also saved lives.

Even during normal times, the task of keeping this vast area clean and safe is far beyond the scope of the hard-working DLNR crews, or the taxpayers’ pockets. This discrepancy will increase during accelerating global climate crisis conditions, and here’s why: plants, including trees and invasives, benefit from excessive carbon dioxide, humidity, heat, radiation, rainfall, and with human absence in the valley, the non-intervention by humans.

We are talking about our carbon addiction here, and way too much of it is where it does not belong: in the atmosphere. The average American uses 24 tons of carbon a year (T/Y), the average European 12 T/Y, the average global citizen 5 T/Y. We need to get to less than 1 T/Y (about the level of the average Kalalau outlaw). That’s still over 7 billion T/Y in the atmosphere, where it does not belong. Naturally, this results in huge shifts in climate and ecology.

I have watched these shifts hiking the Kalalau Trail on average eight times a year for over 20 years. People who spend much time on the trail and in the valley understand it the most, and can be a valuable public asset. We can create a communication link.

The trail and the valley are my health-insurance plan. I propose ages over 65 get free passes. Preventive medicine is far superior to long-term-care facilities. People seek sanctuary in the public park for different reasons: vets with PTSD, recovery from illness, burnout amongst service professionals, abusive relationships, climate refugees, and even obesity (one woman, 265 pounds, spent over one year in the valley and walked out at 145 pounds. That takes guts but also proves the health benefits). Increasingly, as society becomes more unstable, sanctuary is essential.

Worldwide there is an interesting cultural reversal: many newcomers anywhere want to “go native,” while many locals are more invested in their trucks, cell phones and wide screens. This is not surprising: we are all curious and attracted by the unfamiliar.

We can all take self-responsibility to make a lifestyle shift to sustainability. When we all cooperate, including government, we can succeed. People who live in the wilderness typically use less than 1 T/Y of carbon and are much healthier. Hawaiians lived sustainably for centuries here using less than 1 T/Y. Hawaii is the most ideal climate in the world to live in simply and naturally: low carbon. Keep It Sustainably Simple.

Changes are now accelerating. It might be a good time to have a dialogue about the future direction of Kalalau, and DLNR could coordinate receiving public input and maybe also schedule a public hearing.

Residents of Kauai who never get into the valley can hopefully appreciate this information that rarely sees the light of day.


Arius Hopman is a volunteer and Hanapepe resident.

  1. Wil Welsh August 4, 2019 7:33 am Reply

    Over 50 years ago, I was lucky to be guided in Kalalau Valley by Dr. Wheatly, the so-called “Hermit of Kalalau,” a former surgeon who dropped out and lived Kalalau where he scribbled philosophy on whatever material he could find–backs of scratch paper, paper towels, notebooks, etc., The small party I was with were there to pick oranges and Dr. Wheatly knew where every orange tree in the valley was located, about 60 trees. We picked oranges, ate as many as we could hold, came out with burlap bags full of sweet Kauai oranges that we sold to Big Save, proceeds which paid for the helicopter we that brought out the oranges and some very tired pickers!

  2. Uncleaina August 4, 2019 8:20 am Reply

    Oh please. A very very long letter with so many reasons why illegal camping is *good* for the environment! That’s a wild new ecological theory you have there Arius: that illegal hippies benefit an ecosystem. I guess their feces only fertilizes and their trash only enriches the soil? Those tents, candles, old chairs, yoga mats, hammocks, empty water bottles, cigarette butts, and tons of other trash is somehow beneficial to Kalalau? You also seem to forget the violent criminals who lived back there and killed several people here on the island, then somehow link the legacy of Ko’olau? Really? He never came out of Kalalau, got drunk, stole a truck then crashed head on into a sweet 19 yo local girl and killed her – but an illegal Kalalau camper did! So I guess “protecting the aina” to you means “letting transplants from California live in Kalalau illegally”. So see, I disagree- only people who have permits should be allowed and no one over 7 nights. The aina doesn’t need hippies to heal.

  3. numilalocal August 4, 2019 10:37 am Reply

    There’s no excuse or justification for outlaws in any state park. DLNR hauls out tons of rubbish each year – rubbish left largely by those outlaws who feel entitled to live in Kalalau.

  4. Richard DeTucci August 4, 2019 11:58 am Reply

    My wife and I lived on Kauai from 2005 to 2011. I hiked the Kalalau trail many times and discussed it’s history and beauty with Ariss whenever visiting his gallery in Hanapepe. I came to appreciate his knowledge and love for this extraordinary treasure to mankind. Though we no longer live on the island our memories of it are vivid. The trail and the valley would do well by his recommendations. His stewardship is a true example of what makes Kauai so special.

  5. Mary Alexander August 5, 2019 7:00 am Reply

    Thank you for a most thoughtful op-ed. What I wonder: might the State return Kalalau Valley to Native Hawaiians who would like to practice Āina-based living?

  6. Palani August 6, 2019 2:31 am Reply

    What an interesting reversal of accepted logic! Perhaps one solution would be to “Certify” those that are trained to recognize invasive species, and who are in the valley to preserve and repair, rather than to consume and despoil. Even if the DLNR doesn’t recognize it, it may help identify those that are there for the right reasons.

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