How Accessible Should Hawaii’s Public Lands Be?

PBS Hawaii held a lively discussion on the accessibility of public lands in Hawaii. Mahealani Richardson hosted the discussion.

The panel included:

  • Curt Cottrell, Assistant State Parks Director with the Department of Land and Natural Resources
  • Captain David Jenkins, Public Information Officer for the Honolulu Fire Department
  • Stuart Coleman, State Manager, Surfrider Foundation
  • Grant Oka, Former President of the Hawaiian Trails and Mountain Club

Some of the hiking-related highlights:

Curt Cottrell on going off trail:

“If they fall off the cliff, the state does not have liability. The problem is that we have to maintain these signs…The beautify of this act, which is huge, is that DLNR has just about 200 million acres of public land. We only have to place signs at state parks, and along Na Ala Hele trails, cause we invite people…we have no duty to warn on the rest of our property. So our liability is absolved if you go on an unencumbered land up in the middle of the mountain and you fall off a cliff…the state has no liability.”

Captain Jenkins on whether social media is a problem for rescuers:

“Not exactly social media, but the higher volume of people going to these places.”

Richardson asked, “are all of those signs by the state spurred because of those deaths on Mother’s Day at Sacred Falls many years ago?” Cottrell replied:

“That is exactly true. Sacred Falls was the game changer and the catalyst because that area will never be open again, probably.”

Richardson then asked about Mariner’s Ridge and mentioned Kamehameha School sending out letters to bloggers to stop advertising the area. Where do you stand about accessing that particular trail? Oka replied:

“As far as Mariner’s Ridge goes, that has always been the easiest, shortest way to get to the Koolau summit with the best views ever. It’s an extraordinary trail. Early 2000’s, 90’s, you could maybe see 10 people on that trail on a Sunday or a Sunday. Recently, before they closed it, on a good day there’s 300 easily… I certainly understand them fencing it off, however, there still is pressure to hike this trail and go see that view….The HTMC has relieved some of that pressure by working with the land owner and we have permission to lead group hikes on that trail….with permission from Kamehameha Schools.”

Cottrell added:

“The problem is the areas that have become so popular: Ice Ponds in Kalihi, Maunawili Falls in Maunawili, the Lanikai Pillboxes, Mariner’s Ridge…all of those things have the same problem, no parking…All of these places are getting loved to death and there’s no supportive infrastructure to handle the people…There’s erosion and damage from people but its their ancillary cars, where they go to the bathroom, and what they do with their dogs, that’s really causing the tension at Mariner’s. People would wipe their muddy feet on people’s lawns. So the hikers have kind of done it to themselves, but social media took Mariner’s Ridge from a sleepy, locals only trail, to boom it’s global. And it should be, it’s an awesome trail, but not anymore…”

Captain Jenkins on charging for rescues:

“No, because we value life and including our rescuers too…and if theres any kind of delay in calling for emergency services, it could cause a lot of trouble, it could cost someones life. The example would be if someone was hiking up in the mountain and they thought there was going to be a fine, just throw out a number, $10,000 fine, and of course, [they think] I’ll try and make it down on my own, I don’t want to pay that amount of money…3 hours goes by and now they can’t get down…”

Mahealani Richardson admits to trespassing on the Hanauma Bay Rim Trail…everyone laughs. She then asks if “there are certain trails that the state turns a blind eye?” Cottrell replied:

“It’s not a state trail…the signage is partly to protect the landowners…There are some security issues with the communications that are up there…That’s a real good example because it’s so safe and so heavily used and people generally behave themselves…While the signs are there, there’s not a heavy enforcement arm to really make it stop. Where you  have places like Mariner’s where you have an engaged and very vigilant community that pressured the landowner to make this stop and they’re gonna call when there’s people going up there. So it’s a question of who is paying attention and the degree of risk and the degree of nuisance.”

Aren’t all trail considered to be accessible by law? Cottrell replied:

“That is not true.” He went on to discuss accessibility of ancient Hawaiian trails, which was a good listen.

What did you think when Kamehameha Schools asked bloggers and Internet folks to stop writing about these types of trails. Is that going to help? Oka replied:

“The trespassing issue almost makes the club almost irrelevant, unless we get permission from the landowners. Then we can get novices, we can get visitors, we can have a controlled access, we can be eyes and ears for enforcement. We can maintain the trail and we minimize the environment impact on the trail, but unfroutnaltey most landowners don’t see it that way. They say no, nobody goes on this trail.”

Coleman added:

“I think you can also educate those bloggers, the biggest ones that write about Hawaii and these trails to get it at the source before it goes out there. And say if you wanna have access to these things, register with Hawaii tourism authority and we can give you the best cutting edge information about this stuff…but at least there’s education going out that this is not legal anymore…”

Cottrell went on to talk about Sacred Falls and the implementation of QR codes.

Captain Jenkins talked a little about what happens when people are not found on search and rescue missions.

Cottrell goes on to talk about the heavy use and parking issues of Maunawili Falls.

The group wrapped the conversation up by discussing preventive measures, including possible education for visitors and residents. Curtrel added that the tourism and airline industry should partner in terms of educating tourists prior to disembarking.

Oka ended the conversation perfectly:

“The trails are not malicious, they’re not out there to hurt you, but there are hazards there and if you don’t pay attention and respect these hazards it will become life threatening.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

One comment

  1. Todays news: Haunama Ridge trail hikers threatened with fines.

    It is paved and not around homes. If the issue is the security of the communication equipment, then allow hikers to hike up to a point just before top and the commo equipment.

    Please…allow hikers the availability to do an easy and scenic hike for exercise.

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