By VALERIE MONSON, Staff Writer
KIHEI – An unlocked gate installed near the entry of Keoneoio (La Perouse Bay) a couple of months ago has reduced vandalism and discouraged visitors from driving into the sensitive portions of the South Maui coastal region.
The Ahihi-Kinau/Keoneoio Advisory Group learned about the improvements Thursday at a meeting at Lokelani Intermediate School. The gate was installed on private property by a group of landowners in the area. A wire hook latches the gate that was placed just inside the entrance. All parking remains on the side of the gate that's readily accessible.
Hannah Bernard, a member of the advisory group, provided statistics gathered by the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, which has been counting cars and visitors to Keoneoio for 17 months. While the number of vehicles entering the area has increased, more of them seem to be parking in the stalls provided and not venturing down an unpaved path now blocked by the gate. The number of vehicles in the area on the other side of the gate that includes archaeological sites and other historic features dropped by 50 percent, noted Bernard.
"There are more cars in the area, but they're stopping at the gate," said Bernard.
Pat Borge, another member of the advisory panel whose business is on the edge of Keoneoio, said the situation has greatly improved.
"People seem to understand why the gate is there, even though it's not locked," said Borge. "There's much less going on at night. There's no more big fires, there's not as much trash. People seem to be educating everybody else and letting others know that this is not a park."
Ranger Matt Ramsey offered a special thanks to fishermen who have been helping to keep the shoreline clean.
"Basically, the gate is working," said Ramsey.
However, abuses still happen. Judy Edwards, a researcher/educator with the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, came across a sport utility vehicle parked on some historic salt pans Sunday. Edwards said a ring of boulders had been placed around the salt pans to protect them, but that some of the rocks had been moved so vehicles could park atop them.
"Clearly, there's still a need to protect the land," Edwards said Monday.
As one of those who has helped gather statistics on the numbers of vehicles and people accessing the area, Edwards has noticed the different behaviors of different groups.
"Most locals who go back there are very respectful," she said.
At the meeting, there was little to report on the proposed rules changes that would allow the trails to two coves in the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve to be closed, at least temporarily until a management plan gets adopted. Ramsey said the process was moving along but that it could be several months before the rules could be adopted. Borge, frustrated over the lack of time to protect areas that are being destroyed by overuse, asked to invite Gov. Linda Lingle to the panel's next meeting so she could hear their concerns firsthand.
But there was other news on related subjects:
- An attorney general's opinion has determined that the county is the owner of Makena-Keoneoio Road. For years, the county has insisted that the state owns the road, while the state has insisted that the county owns it. Randy Kennedy, statewide natural area reserve manager, told the panel that the opinion states that the state transferred the road to the county and, for the last 30 years, has paved and managed the road.
(Don Couch, executive assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa, said Friday that the county doesn't own the road because the Maui County Council hasn't accepted it. At the same time, Couch said the county was willing to work with the state to limit access on the road.)
- The cave in the reserve that had been furnished and occupied by a woman has been sealed up. Ramsey said all the woman's belongings were removed and an inventory of the cave was conducted before it was closed with cement and lava stones.
- Kennedy said there's a good chance that three ranger positions could be funded permanently by the state, if a request by the Department of Land and Natural Resources gets approved by the state Legislature. Two rangers have been on the job because of a two-year grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Those rangers Ð and another Ð could become permanent state employees. The presence of rangers also has reduced the amount of criminal activity greatly.
- Bills that would have moved for the adoption of the management plan and provided money to implement the plan have died in the Legislature, said Kennedy. A bill that urges the county to limit access on Makena-Keoneoio Road remains alive.
While members of the advisory panel continued to call for more protection for the natural area reserve and restrictions to sensitive areas that have suffered increasing destruction as crowds have grown over the years, some in the audience strongly objected.
"Everybody wants to close everything," said Kihei resident Ron Schranz, who has lived in Hawaii for 30 years, 18 of them on Maui. "I want to be able to use this place. All over the island, we're being blocked out, there's no parking. We need to work to make it a better place, a safe place."
Tom Croly and Jeff Ticzkus disputed reports of high numbers of people getting injured on the lava in the reserve or the general chaos of the area.
But others who patrol the reserve daily stuck to their earlier claims. Ramsey and advisory panel members also explained the significance of a natural area reserve and the high levels of protection that designation brings with it.
Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. was upset with the complaints of residents who were disturbed that they didn't have complete access for recreational purposes. Maxwell pointed out that Native Hawaiians have been pushed out of more and more of their native lands and have a hard time even being able to afford homes in the very place where they were born.
Ramsey said statistics back up the need to bring more protection to the reserve.
"Even if you don't see it, the biologists say the resources are being permanently impacted," he said.
Valerie Monson can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2005 The Maui News.
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