Panel wants road through Ahihi-Kinau reserve closed

The Maui News
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

By HARRY EAGAR, Staff Writer

KIHEI - After learning that Mayor Alan Arakawa supports closing Makena Road access to the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve "tomorrow," an advisory committee voted unanimously Monday to recommend closure as soon as possible.

It won't happen very soon, because of a number of legal, administrative and logistical hurdles to hop over.

Dan Davidson, the deputy director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said he regarded the recommendation as flexible, leaving open for more study the hours of closure, the means of allowing residents through, the access rights of fishermen and native gatherers and the practical arrangements necessary.

Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Jr., who made the motion to the Ahihi-Kinau/Keoneoio Advisory Group, had originally proposed closing the road around-the-clock, not permanently but until rangers could start working. He proposed that once some supervision is in place, the road could be opened in the daytime.

Davidson said the first ranger could be on station as early as August.

But Maxwell's motion was open-ended, except for the location. A spot called "Dumps," which was a garbage dump when the area had a little settlement about 75 years ago, was picked.

The attraction of the Dumps site is that a gulch there means it will be easier to keep four-wheel-drive vehicles from going around the gate.

A gate was unwelcome news for fishermen. Brian Yoshikawa said fishermen don't want to walk too far from their trucks, because if they do, they'll end up walking all the way home. Their tires - or even the whole truck - will be gone.

The advisory committee, seeking to accommodate all interests, invited Gary Hashizaki, president of the Maui Casting Club, to become a member of the committee when it meets next, which will be Aug. 3.

"It's very disturbing that another area might be taken away from us," said Yoshikawa.

The shoreline beyond the natural area reserve offers good ulua fishing and opportunities for diving on overnight trips. Shore casting for ulua - any of several species of jack fish, some growing to more than 100 pounds - normally is conducted at night, when the fish come closer to shore to feed.

The committee and DLNR are committed to restricting access because an influx of often poorly informed visitors - around 700 a day - is causing damage to the natural and cultural resources in the area.

There was some disagreement whether the day-trippers -80 percent of whom are tourists, according to a three-year survey by the Hawaii Wildlife Fund - are more of a problem than the people who are showing up at night.

Pat Borge, who lives in the area, said most people have no idea how bad it is after dark. Homeless people, drug users and thieves are said to roam the area.

Borge said fires they start are a huge danger, a point that was seconded strongly by Sumner Erdman of Ulupalakua Ranch, one of numerous private landowners that would be affected by any road closure.

DLNR's task is to manage the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, but there are areas of archaeological and cultural significance outside the reserve. Most of the land in the Cape Kinau-Keoneoio (La Perouse) area is private.

Erdman said he will be putting up a locked gate where the road reaches his property. He said vehicles are the biggest problem from his point of view, because they destroy historic sites. Fence jumpers would be, to the ranch, less trouble.

The natural area reserve includes some privately owned lots with homes but it is mostly desolate lava on Cape Kinau. It also contains protected reefs and ecologically sensitive anchialine (brackish) ponds, besides ancient sites.

The roadway through the Cape Kinau lava field is believed to follow the route of the ancient Hoapili or King's Trail, which once ran around the island and is a public way.

Cutting off access to the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve also blocks the road to Keoneoio and La Perouse Bay as well as the state's King's Highway Coastal Trail, a 5-mile trail through lava fields that is a remnant of the old Hoapili Trail between Keoneoio and Kanaloa at Kanaio.

Who is responsible for the public way is a question. The county wants the state to claim it, and the state wants to county to have it.

It matters when it comes to closure. If it is a state roadway, then the Board of Land and Natural Resources can close the road, as it did when it closed the reserve to commercial use (kayaking and hiking, mostly) in April.

Don Couch, administrative assistant to Arakawa, said closing a county road probably would require passing an ordinance.

DLNR has not completely succeeded in shutting down commercial operators. Randy Awo, Maui supervisor for the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, said a couple of cases have been developed and sent to the BLNR for adjudication and punishment.

At least one kayak operator remains defiant, he said, without naming who it is. He said it has proven difficult to make a case because the customers are being advised not to talk to enforcement officers.

Among the many problems in the reserve is rock theft. People illegally take aa and pahoehoe lava for landscaping and walls. Awo says his officers have spotted poached rock and ordered homeowners to take it back, then stood by to make sure it was loaded in trucks.

But he also explained to the committee how much effort it would require to manage a daily closure. DOCARE policy requires clearing out stragglers before blocking a road, because it is always possible that someone inside might not have left because he was injured and needed assistance.

This is a chore at Iao Valley State Park, Awo said, and it will be harder at Ahihi-Kinau, which is so much bigger.

The committee was in agreement that a gate alone will not solve all the problems facing either the reserve or the sensitive areas around it.

Education is viewed as a necessity. The rangers, funded through the Hawaii Tourism Authority, will not have enforcement authority, but they will be able to keep an eye on visitors and explain to them why the area deserves careful handling.

"We know there's activities in the area that are inappropriate," said Davidson.

Harry Eagar can be reached at

Copyright 2003 The Maui News

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