HONOLULU — The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks is preparing for the reopening of Polihale State Park.
No firm date has yet been set.
Due to overuse and abuse, the popular beach and camping area was shut down. On one weekend in July, an estimated 1,000 people camped illegally.
Reopening will likely happen within the next few weeks, however, if park users do not comply with park rules, it will close again.
“Clearly we have management and enforcement deficiencies made worse by the current pandemic and related fiscal constraints,” said Suzanne Case, chair of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.
“We will not allow resources to be degraded, so we are asking park users to behave as expected or we will be forced to close Polihale again.”
State-park leadership has been meeting with lineal- and cultural-descendant families from the area to exchange ideas and formulate short-, medium- and long-term plans for improved park management. Some have been granted cultural access to the park to conduct clean-ups and malama cultural sites, including burials, located within the sensitive dune system.
Although these families have been caring for the ‘aina for generations, many others are not aware of the cultural significance of the area. It is hoped that widespread adoption of caring for Polihale will lead to much improved compliance, Case said.
“A stewardship agreement is a potential outcome, and would be a welcome augmentation for park maintenance and management,” said Curt Cottrell, state parks administrator.
“In the short-term, DSP will install clearer messaging of park rules through new signage and printed flyers. Thirty new speed-bumps have already been installed to discourage speeding and damage to the park’s five-mile-long, unimproved entry road. A decision on whether to allow overnight camping has not been made,” Cottrell said.
Medium-term proposals include a possible permit entry system for all vehicles entering the park. A successful model has been in place for years at O‘ahu’s Ka‘ena Point State Park, where permittees are provided explicit maps of designated roads. They commit to abiding by all rules and are subject to having their access revoked if they break them.
Long-term measures include capital improvement projects aimed at protecting the dunes, enhancing access, parking, and camping areas, as well as adding better educational and interpretive devices to focus on the important cultural and natural resources of the park. Adding toilets near the Po‘oahonu (Queen’s Pond) area of the park is also critical to protecting the sanctity of this area, officials said.
A long-standing issue is the dangerous combination of driving on the beach and camping without permits. Both are illegal activities under state parks administrative rules.
“In the future this could be regulated via a permit process or rule change but, for now, park users are reminded that driving on the beach or through the dunes is illegal,” said Cottrell. “To address this issue, DSP is working towards designating certain beach areas at Polihale for restricted transiting, parking and boat launching.”
Implementing any significant new management measures is a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. State budget woes and hiring freezes have prompted DLNR to encourage kokua from the Kaua‘i community.
“We’re trying to determine how much people really care about Polihale’s natural and cultural resources. Reopening with new guidelines is an opportunity to see,” said Cottrell.