The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is saying the opening of Hā‘ena State Park is totally dependent on the repair and restoration of Kūhiō Highway, the only road to Kaua‘i’s north shore, and completion of the intense work that is underway at the park, which was also heavily damaged during last April’s world-record rain storm.
About 80 percent of Hā‘ena State Park’s parking lot washed away and the water line was severed. In addition to Ke’e beach, a destination snorkeling spot, Hā‘ena is the gateway to the adjacent Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park and the Kalalau Trail, which experienced five large landslides.
The closure of both parks, due to lack of access, has been a blessing in disguise, in that it’s given the trodden landscape and marine environment an opportunity to rest and for State Parks to implement a 20-year-long planning effort targeting park improvements, according to DLNR.
Alan Carpenter, Assistant Administrator for DLNR Division of State Parks, is spearheading repairs and restoration. He said it was a crisis that created an amazing opportunity.
“The master planning process identified two major issues: physical improvements and visitor management,” Carpenter said. “They are equally important. We managed to switch gears and borrow funds from other planned projects which gave us the chance to implement a master plan at almost record speed. In this compressed timeframe we’re creating a new experience and when the highway reopens we should be finished with work at Hā‘ena State Park.”
Upon completion, park users will experience a new, smooth parking lot that better manages the previous congestion. A boardwalk and pathway is being constructed through a restored loʻi system and into the coastal forest to provide safer and more aesthetic access to Kē‘ē Beach and the Kalalau Trailhead.
“We’ve long known about the risk of people walking on the road beneath steep cliffs, where rock fall is frequent. This was exacerbated first by a fire and then by the flooding,” Carpenter said.
He feels it will be a greatly enhanced and more immersive experience than before.
A key piece of the redevelopment of the area and a major paradigm shift in Hawai‘i State Park management honors the desires of the local community, according to DLNR. For years the highway leading to both parks has been jammed with people and cars and in recent years has become detrimental to community values due to record tourism numbers. Local residents asked State Parks to come up with some sort of system to manage the enormous number of visitors.
“The community put faith in us, as part of the master planning process, to reduce the number of people in the park at any given time. We anticipate cutting the number of daily park users in half … from 2,000 a day to 900. We’ll have a variety of methods to accomplish this, including a controlled-entry system through online purchasing of parking slots or a seat on a shuttle. Some of the details are still being worked out as we continue to collaborate with partners and the community on the best ways to manage the flow of people and traffic,” Carpenter said.
Ultimately, Carpenter says, the first and foremost mission is to protect the sensitive natural and cultural features of Hā‘ena and Nāpali. One of the best ways of doing this, he said, is to limit visitation. Any mainland or world travelers have likely already experienced limited-park entrance at certain National Parks and international destinations like Machu Picchu or Nepal.
“We are trying to create a situation where there is always room for local people and cultural practitioners,” he said.
No date for the reopening is set, and again is predicated on Kuhio Highway reopening and completing the critically needed park restoration, according to DLNR.