Polihale State Park. Photo by Tiallah Mortell

Officials from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of State Parks sent a news release last Friday stating they were preparing for the reopening of Polihale State Park, although no firm date has yet been set.

DLNR officials said the beach and camping area was shut down due to overuse and abuse, including an estimated 1,000 people camping illegally recently. The reopening will “likely happen within weeks,” but also warned if park users do not comply with park rules, Polihale will be closed again, according to DLNR.

“Clearly we have management and enforcement deficiencies, made worse by the current pandemic and related fiscal constraints”, DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said in the news release. “We will not allow resources to be degraded, so we are asking park users to behave as expected or we will be forced to close Polihale again.”

DSP leadership has been meeting with lineal and cultural descendant families from the area to exchange ideas and formulate short, medium, and long-term plans for improved park management. Some have been granted cultural access to the park area to conduct clean-ups and mālama cultural sites, including burials, located within the sensitive dune system, according to the DLNR news release.

Although these families have been caring for the ‘aina for generations, many others are not aware of the cultural significance of the area. It is hoped that widespread adoption of caring for Polihale will lead to much improved compliance.

“A stewardship agreement is a potential outcome, and would be a welcome augmentation for park maintenance and management,” DSP administrator Curt Cottrell said. “In the near-term, DSP will install clearer messaging of park rules through new signage and printed flyers. 30 new speedbumps have already been installed to discourage speeding and damage to the parkʻs five-mile-long unimproved entry road. A decision on whether to allow overnight camping has not been made.”

Mid-term proposals include a possible permit entry system for all vehicles entering the park. A successful model has been in place for years at Oʻahu’s Kaʻena Point State Park, where permittees are provided explicit maps of designated roads. They commit to abiding by all rules and are subject to having their access revoked if they break them.

Long-term measures include capital improvement projects aimed at protecting the dunes, enhancing access, parking, and camping areas, as well as adding better educational and interpretive devices to focus on the important cultural and natural resources of the park. Adding toilets near the Poʻoahonu (Queen’s Pond) area of the park is also critical to protecting the sanctity of this area.

A long-standing issue is the dangerous combination of driving on the beach and camping without permits. Both are illegal activities under State Parks Administrative rules, according to DLNR.

“In the future this could be regulated via a permit process or rule change but, for now, park users are reminded that driving on the beach or through the dunes is illegal. To address this issue, DSP is working towards designating certain beach areas at Polihale for restricted transiting, parking, and boat launching,” Cottrell said.

Implementing any significant new management measures is a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. State budget woes and hiring freezes have prompted DLNR to encourage kokua from the Kaua‘i community.

“We’re trying determine how much people really care about Polihale’s natural and cultural resources. Reopening with new guidelines is an opportunity to see,” Cottrell said.


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