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Popular Lanikai Trail Closed for Two Months

Ku?uwehi Hiraishi

Starting today, the popular Lanikai Pillbox Trail will be closed for the next two months for repairs to the two pillbox structures. This pause in foot traffic comes as the state develops a long-term management plan for the highly-used trail. HPR Reporter Ku?uwehi Hiraishi hit the trail before it closed and has this story.

UPDATE (3/29/18): Repair work is delayed until further notice, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The trail remains open, but parking will be restricted this three-day holiday weekend. 

Contrary to popular belief, the Lanikai Pillboxes are not really pillboxes. The two concrete structures on Ka?iwa Ridge were built during World War II to be observation stations, not sites for defensive armaments. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that this trail got any attention.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“In the late 80s, a guy was gonna build a house there, on the top pillbox,” says long-time Lanikai resident Tom Cestare, “That?s when the Lanikai Community Association swung into action because we wanted this to be for the people of Hawai?i.”

Cestare was one of the lawyers who helped halt development. The state condemned the property and added it to its trail inventory. Cestare is now president of the Lanikai Community Association. I recently joined him for a quick afternoon hike.

“For a relatively short hike, you can see all the way down to Makapu’u and all the way up to La’ie Point,” says Cestare.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Tom Cestare points out a portion of the Ka'iwa Ridge Trail that is no longer used.

Spectacular views in less than 15 minutes is like striking hiking gold. But for trailhead communities like Lanikai, the increased traffic, litter, erosion, and so on need to be addressed.

“We live in Hawai’i, right? We want people to come and enjoy themselves and we want people to experience where we live. And we wanna share that,” says Cestare, “But at some point we have to be cognizant of the impact on our communities as well.”

Aaron Lowe oversees the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ N? Ala Hele Trails and Access Program.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve seen a drastic increase in use,” says Lowe, “So that increased use has obviously caused a fair amount of problems because you don’t have the facilities for that type of use in place so parking or bathrooms.”

He says growing community concerns prompted further action. Lowe has been working with a contractor since January to gather public input in developing a trail management plan for the 1.25-mile hike.

“There are opportunities within the management plan to make the trail safer and better,” says Lowe, “But it?s challenging because you don?t have the ability to put a parking lot anywhere close or have bathroom facilities but they?re looking at all the potential solutions.”

The Lanikai Community Association has been working closely with the contractor.

“We are really thankful that the state has undertaken this opportunity to attempt to manage this trail and hopefully this will be a model for other parts of the state,” says Cestare.

“People are really enjoying themselves on these trails and if we can figure out to make it work so that there are no negative impacts to the community or to the environment,” says Lowe, “Then that’s really the end goal and objective at the end of the day.”

Lowe says once the plan is complete, the next challenge will be justifying a budget allocation from the state legislature.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at
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