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Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park proposes new visitor center, research facility after 2018 eruption

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Janice Wei/National Park Service via AP
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The 2018 eruption of Kīlauea claimed 700 homes in Hawaiʻi Island’s Puna District and forever changed the landscape at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. With a little more stability along the East Rift Zone and within the park these days, the National Park Service is proposing a recovery plan for damaged critical park infrastructure.

Jessica Ferracane with Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park said the Jaggar Museum and the Reginald T. Okamura building — which is part of the U.S. Geological Survey - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory facility — at Uēkahuna are completely unsound.

"Crater Rim Drive which encircled Kīlauea caldera at the edge, part of that and a parking lot and an overlook actually fell into the crater — several miles of road on the western side of Crater Rim Drive that will never reopen," Ferracane told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

hawaii volcanoes national park kilauea visitor area
National Park Service
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A map of the visitor sites around Kīlauea Caldera at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.

Constructed in 1985, Jaggar Museum was the first park museum, sharing volcano science and Hawaiian culture with millions of visitors.

To fulfill the educational element that Jaggar Museum provided, the Disaster Recovery Project proposes a new visitor center closer to the park entrance. Visitors used to drive 2 miles from the entrance to the museum.

"People would be able to come into the park, get their bearings, see the visitor center exhibits and engage in the park that way and then head out and see the different sites along the park," Ferracane said.

Uekahuna area HVO USGS kilauea
National Park Service
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A screenshot from the interactive Disaster Recovery Project plan.

The plan would not only benefit park visitors, but also the scientists and staff who monitor volcanic activity in the area. The data they collect is critical to keeping everyone informed and safe.

"We need to build a new building, which will be part of an overall reorganization of Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and our other USGS unit up in the park, which is PIERC, the Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center. So for the first time, we'll be united together in a single building. And we'll have actually two facilities: a field station to base most of our fieldwork up within the National Park, and then a research center down in Hilo," said Kenneth Hon with the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The National Park plan proposes constructing the new research facility adjacent to the Kīlauea Military Camp. Also in the plan is a roundabout intersection right after the park entrance to ease traffic congestion.

Ferracane said if the plan goes forward, the project could be well underway within one to four years.

hawaii volcanoes national park roundabout proposal
National Park Service
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Proposed roundabout right after the park entrance at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.

The public was invited to provide input on the proposed Disaster Recovery Project during two virtual meetings Thursday, Feb. 24. Click here for the interactive version of the project proposal.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Feb. 22, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Sophia McCullough is HPR's digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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