HA‘ENA — The Friends of Kalalau trail, a group of volunteers, made their repairs and maintenance on the first two miles of Kalalau trail, which starts at the Ha‘ena State Park, on Thursday, Dec. 10.
“While some of our work is maintenance, such as brush-cutting and cutting overhead branches, lots of our work is maintaining the tread and improving it,” volunteer coordinator Mark Hubbard said.
“We make log steps and rock steps, and we make drainage to run the water off the trail. These repairs last for years, and it is quite rewarding to see the improvements over the years. We have been working on the trial for about 10 years, about twice a month.”
Hubbard said they started out as a volunteer group under Kaua‘i Planning & Action Alliance, which had a contract to do maintenance on the trail. He expressed his gratitude to Gary Hooser because, according to Hubbard, Hooser got the group a grant-in-aid from the state Legislature many years ago.
According to Hubbard, there were two grants-in-aid from the Legislature, the first to repair the first two miles of the trail to Hanakapi‘ai Beach, which is the busiest part of the trail. The second grant-in-aid was for the last nine miles of the 11-mile trail. Training a volunteer group to continue maintenance of the first two miles was part of the first grant-in-aid.
“Frank and I were among those trained in trail-construction and maintenance, and have continued the volunteer effort,” Hubbard said. “I believe it will be 11 years this January that the grant-in-aid was finished and the volunteers took over the effort. We have worked twice a month continually except for about 10 months after the North Shore flood and about 4 months at the beginning of the pandemic.
“We have occasionally worked on the Hanakapi‘ai Falls Trail as well as past Hanakapi‘ai, up to the 3.25-mile mark. We do not work beyond that since we only do a day’s work and do not camp overnight, which is the only way to efficiently work on the rest of the trail,” Hubbard said.
A labor of love for volunteers
“We now are a volunteer group directly under the State Parks Division,” Hubbard said. “We usually have a half-dozen volunteers when we work. Some of us live in Lihu‘e and others live further north. Most of us are retired, so we have time to do the work. However, it is strenuous work, and I am getting a little old for it. Still fun though.”
Hubbard said the weather was clear the last work day, yet a little wet from overnight showers with a few hikers.
“We worked on several areas — fixed a loose rock on the first small stream and made a better crossing; added a rock step just past the 2/3-mile stream; improved drainage at the 2/3-mile stream; then worked the rest of the morning right below Windy Point (no wind today), replacing two log steps, adding two more log steps and adding two rock steps as well as improving drainage.”
Another volunteer, Frank Whitman, chimed in on why cleaning up the trail is important to him.
When I first started visiting Kaua‘i in the ’90s, the family hiking the Hanakapi‘ai Trail was always part of the stay,” Whitman said. “As a resident, it was and is important to me to give back to the ‘aina for all I received when a visitor. When the opportunity arose a decade ago to become part of a volunteer-maintenance crew being trained to care for the trail I joined up, and have now spent two days a month working on the trail ever year since.
“And now, as our crew walks out the trail to the day’s work site, it is very rewarding to see that from the trail head to the stream crossing there is pretty much no part of the trail our group hasn’t maintained, bolstered, repaired and made safer over the past 10 years,” Whitman said.
Trail open for use
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said the Kalalau Trail is open for day and overnight use as of Dec. 3. However, the trail closes and opens frequently due to flash flooding.
According to DLNR, the Kalalau Trail provides the only land access to this part of the rugged coast. Originally built in the late 1800s, portions of the trail were rebuilt in the 1930s. A similar foot trail linked earlier Hawaiian settlements along the coastline. The trail traverses five valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach, where it is blocked by sheer, fluted cliffs.
DLNR said the 11-mile trail is graded, but almost never level as it crosses above towering sea cliffs and through lush valleys. The trail drops to sea level at the beaches of Hanakapi‘ai and Kalalau. The first two miles of the trail, from Ha‘ena State Park to Hanakapi‘ai Beach, make a popular day hike. Anyone proceeding beyond Hanakapi‘ai Valley must possess a valid overnight camping permit. No overnight parking is allowed at Ha‘ena State Park.
To volunteer contact Mark Hubbard at email@example.com.
This story was updated Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 5:16 p.m. with updated information.