MAKENA — Comparing the significance of Makena State Park to Gettysburg, the attorney for Na Kupuna O Maui added a new wrinkle Thursday to the ongoing debate about the best way to preserve the area, with a plan that could also end up controlling public nudity at secluded Little Beach.
J.P. Schmidt, a former county corporation counsel, has been retained by Na Kupuna to help get the entire 165-acre South Maui parcel listed on the state and national registers of historic places. If such status is granted, Schmidt believes there’s also a good chance that Hawaii’s laws on indecent exposure, which say that nudity is a crime only if it’s done with the intent to offend or affront, could be better enforced.
“We’re not doing this to get rid of the nudists, we’re doing this to emphasize the cultural and historic importance of the park,” insisted Schmidt. “But common sense says that when you have a state or national historic place, it’s more likely that the people who go there will be offended by nudity and will complain.
“People don’t go nude at Gettysburg, the Capitol Mall or the Vatican because many people would find that offensive.”
Members of Na Kupuna, a hui of mostly Hawaiian elders, asked to address a state-appointed working group Thursday morning that had scheduled a site visit as part of updating the master plan.
State Parks Superintendent Phil Ohta said the working group would like to work “hand in hand” with Na Kupuna in determining historic sites, collecting the legends of the area and using accurate Hawaiian names in identifying locations to ensure the park would reflect ancient culture.
Mary Evanson, longtime conservationist and a member of the group, called the prospect “exciting.”
Later in the afternoon, Dick Hyers of the Friends of Little Beach, who recently joined the working group, said it was too early for him to comment on Schmidt’s proposal. He said discussions about the overall ramifications of such a plan were already under way with other members of the friends group, which has cleaned Little Beach for the past 15 years and favors leaving the area as clothing optional.
It was the first public gathering held regarding the Makena master plan, and the touchy issue of nudity at Little Beach since a meeting last month that had nearly 200 supporters of clothing-optional activities voicing their protests against any efforts to cover up.
Since then, angry commentaries both for and against nudity at the isolated beach have played out on the Opinion Page of The Maui News, many of the attacks personal or with racial overtones.
Other than a heated exchange in the parking lot before things got started, the 50 or so residents who assembled in a circle on the sand heeded moderator Leslie Kuloloio’s plea for peace and mutual respect. In fact, by the end of the session, a few of the naturalists were sitting among the Hawaiian elders, at least listening to why nudity offended many kupuna even though the younger ones weren’t ready to change their lifestyles.
Because a Maui district judge has dismissed indecent exposure cases involving the isolated beach at Puu Olai (although there have been some convictions), state parks officials have mostly looked the other way at nudity on Little Beach, which is accessible only by a hike over a lava ridge.
Schmidt maintained that nudity had nothing to do with Na Kupuna’s jumping into the fray because, he said, “there’s already a law against lewd conduct.”
Not everyone agreed that Schmidt was being upfront. Both Peter John and Jim Girvis challenged his motives with John accusing Schmidt of trying to pull “a sneaky backdoor trip” that would round up the nudists, and Girvis claiming that Little Beach “is not Gettysburg.”
Schmidt held his ground, saying he believed the park was “far, far more important than Gettysburg.” He said Na Kupuna would be seeking support from county, state and national lawmakers to place the park on the historic registers.
Patty Nishiyama, a spokesperson for Na Kupuna, said she thinks, with more talking, those who enjoy the clothing-optional atmosphere will understand why the kupuna don’t find it appropriate at a public beach on land they consider sacred.
“Hopefully, the education will come and they’ll respect that,” she said. “And they’ll go ‘Oh, we don’t to desecrate that area (with public nudity).’ “
Alana Morgan, a passionate supporter of leaving Little Beach as clothing optional, said she respects the view of the Hawaiians, but she finds nothing disrespectful about being naked at the beach. She said nudity should be allowed “to heal the wounded paradigm” that “causes shame on our bodies.”
Before the group broke up, Maui businessman Charles Keoho filed a complaint with one of the state enforcement officers that he was offended by the public nudity he saw after a visit to Little Beach a few minutes earlier. The officer said he would make a report.
After hearing Na Kupuna’s concerns and opening the meeting to other comments, the working group went about its mission of touring the wetlands, mulling over possible campsite areas and looking for a location of the future caretaker’s cottage.
Ohta said another meeting will be held next month, but the volatile nudity issue will most likely be left to another time.