By LEE IMADA, News Editor
WAILUKU – Plans to allow commercial food vendors in Iao Valley are "dead," said land board Chairman Peter Young on Thursday.
Iao Valley was one of four Maui state parks that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources had pegged for "mobile food concessions," a need that surfaced in Hawaii Tourism Authority surveys of visitors.
Bids are continuing to be accepted for food concessions in the other state parks: Makena in South Maui; Kaumahina on the way to Hana; and Waianapanapa in Hana.
But, after a conversation with Native Hawaiian cultural specialist Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. this week, Young said he had a change of heart regarding Iao Valley.
"It's dead," Young said of food concessions in the popular tourist destination in the West Maui Mountains.
In recounting his conversation with Young, Maxwell said he reminded the land board chairman of the sacredness of the valley, that it is the burial site of 26 kings and queens.
He also described how an organized group of Native Hawaiians got a T-shirt vendor to leave the valley in early 1996. Thirty to 40 people spent two days trying to block the vendor from selling his wares, chanting and driving Japanese tourists away from the vendor, calling him "abunai" (dangerous), Maxwell recalled.
Young did not seem to recall the event, said Maxwell.
"I value his opinion and his counsel," said Young in a phone interview from Oahu. "We are trying to work with the community. We are trying to serve the public. We don't want to create undue conflict."
Young likened the Iao situation to one on Kauai where community members asked the state officials to hold off on the food concession program for one of the parks. They did, Young said.
"It's appropriate in some places and inappropriate in others," he said, noting that food concessions at Diamond Head have been getting favorable responses.
"We are trying to do the right thing," he said.
Another benefit of the concessions is that money derived will be earmarked for the underfunded Parks Division, Young said in an earlier report about concessions. He noted a park ranger will soon be added and serve as a docent at Diamond Head.
The idea for the food concessions came from visitors surveyed by the HTA, he said in the earlier report. There were a number of requests for food and beverages in the parks, which the department decided to move on.
Only food and beverages will be sold – no souvenirs, trinkets or T-shirts.
Bids are being accepted and bid packets have been requested. Young did not have information on the numbers of bids or packets handed out.
Maxwell said he's happy with Young's decision and doesn't plan to protest food concessions at the other parks. He does believe that state parks officials should have put the food concession program out for public hearing.
"I know a lot of people are not happy with Waianapanapa," he said in advocating for hearings. "It's only proper. The feelings of the people are respected. I still seriously think they should have put it out to public hearing."
Maxwell lamented the commercialism.
"We lose the essence of the parks we visit," he said.
Then he added that if there must be commercialism, he advocated giving Native Hawaiian businesses first dibs.
Iao Valley is special to Maxwell, who says he is the "kahu of Iao Valley, caretaker of Iao Valley." After his group's run-in with the T-shirt vendor, commercial activity was prohibited in the valley by the Board of Land & Natural Resources, he said. He has called state enforcement officials on several occasions through the years to remove vendors from the valley.
Given that ban, he found the original food concessions decision puzzling.
The valley is historically and culturally important to the Native Hawaiian people, Maxwell said. He recounted the history of the lush valley where Kamehameha in 1790 crushed the Maui army of Kahekili's son, Kalanikupule.
Before the great battle, Iao Valley was already recognized as a sacred place.
"This valley was so sacred no one could ever go past Main and High streets . . . only high priests to do services," he said.
"I'm happy now," Maxwell said. "They are not going to sell anything now."
Lee Imada can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2005 The Maui News.
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