Kūhiō Highway on Kauaʻi’s North Shore is set to fully re-open next Monday. This also means the re-opening of the popular Kalalau Trail on the Nā Pali Coast, but visitors should know there will be a few changes.
The trail has been closed for more than a year following massive rain and flooding that caused significant damage to parts of the 11-mile trail. According to Curt Cottrell, head of the state parks division, the biggest impact was financial.
“This was an unprecedented closure, 14 months and counting,” said Cottrell. “So the financial hit that we took, along with the folks in Hāʻena and Wainiha, was substantial because we make just about $500,000 a year on camping permits.”
But as soon as next week, the Kalalau Trail will be open for business with one big change. Cottrell plans to station rangers in the valley seven days a week.
“We’ll have staff in Kalalau checking permits. They’ll have first-aid certification, satellite phones for communication,” he said.
The rangers will also serve as cultural interpreters, talking to visitors about the history and culture of the valley.
“To have presence in one of the premiere wilderness destinations on earth, finally, really is a huge paradigm shift for us,” Cottrell said.
Kalalau Trail, especially the first two miles to Hanakapīʻai Falls, was seeing upwards of 500,000 people a year — and it caused problems.
“And it was hitting a crescendo, pre-flood,” Cottrell said. “And it was really interesting...the flood was almost nature’s way of saying, 'Enough already.'”
Cottrell said a cap on camping permits for Kalalau will remain at 60 per day. But parking at the trailhead in Hāʻena is prohibited. Hikers need to get dropped off or catch the community-run shuttle. It’s all part of the state’s effort to drastically reduce the number of visitors to Hāʻena State Park.
“We’re right on the cutting edge of trying to find that balance between our now 10-million-person-a-year visitor industry and try to ratchet back impact on cultural and natural resources,” he said.
Cottrell said if the steps to reduce overuse of the park work, visitors could see them implemented at other state parks across the islands.