LIHUE — The state Board of Land and Natural Resources voted Friday to continue a permit that allows public access to Kauai’s Ho‘opi‘i Falls.
But, there still is concern that the public could lose access to the second of the two falls where a popular swimming hole draws residents and locals on a daily basis.
That’s because access to the second falls crosses through private land.
It’s a topic that’s been front of mind for the Kauai Na Ala Hele Advisory Council.
During the BLNR voting process, citizens from the council and the Sierra Club of Hawaii Kauai Chapter asked the board to take a look at preserving public easement from Kapahi Road to the second waterfall.
The request was to defer the acceptance of the revocable permit in order to “prepare a lease amendment and ensure that public access to the falls will continue in perpetuity” according to Sierra Club.
Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesman Dan Dennison confirmed Monday that the board approved that revocable permit, increasing the cost 3 percent from 2019 annual rent of $3996.40 to $4,116.00 in 2020.
The permittee listed with BLNR is Falko Partner S, LLC. The LLC couldn’t be reached for comment before press time.
That doesn’t mean that the issue is dead, just that the BLNR chose not to approve amendments relating to public access during the process to approve the permit.
Some community members say it’s a matter of time before the issue has to be addressed, and that could have been done on Friday.
“The recent sale of private land next to the stream may threaten access to the lower falls,” said Kauai Sierra Club member Rayne Regush in a statement. “However, access could be assured through state-owned lands on the other side of the stream which are being leased to private parties.”
Preserving access to that second set of falls has been on the Kauai Na Ala Hele Advisory Council’s agenda several times since 2016.
The trail itself is about one mile long to the first falls, and leads from a Kapaa residential area through pastureland and along the Kapaa Stream. The first falls, known as the upper falls, is an 18-foot set of waterfalls that land in a swimming hole.
Hike another quarter of a mile or so, and reach the second set of falls — that second waterfall also feeds into a swimming hole, complete with a rope swing. Those falls are located at the intersection of several state-lease land parcels.
The trail to the second falls is intermittently blocked off with barbed wire and “NO TRESSPASSING” signs; hikers are occasionally rerouted around the private land and funneled along the edge of Kapaa Stream, a trek that’s arguably a bit more difficult.
The trail blockages and signs have been quietly removed in the past within weeks of being installed, however, with no one claiming responsibility for removal.
“The state could ensure the right of public access to both waterfalls in its lease agreements. As the area continues to develop as a residential neighborhood, the trail’s recreational value to nearby residents increases,” Regush said.
The revocable permit that was approved Friday could be up for grabs, too, as the BLNR decision also directed staff to “explore the possibility of selling a lease at public auction.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at email@example.com