The moon, full today, and eclipsing, had snuggled under its blanket of fleece in the west, but the sun had not yet risen, when the dogs and I went out walking. Clouds — gray, white, yellow; anvil-shaped, towers, swirls — were moving fast, traveling to a rain-in over the mountains. And sure enough, just as the sky turned shell pink in the east I saw the tell-tale signs of black fringe over Waialeale, the sheer white of a squall, beneath a mauka sky that had assumed the purplish color of a bruise.
Our local newspaper today published a photo of a man displaying some scrapes on his back, though none of the bruises one might expect if he’d been pummeled by three men and thrown off a cliff at Lepeuli (Larsen’s) Beach, as he claims — and his alleged perpetrator, Bruce Laymon, denies — in the accompanying article.
The photos were circulated via email a number of weeks ago, shortly after Laymon erected a fence that blocked an unauthorized, though popular, trail to one of the few truly wild beaches remaining on the windward side. The man’s claims sounded bogus when I first read them, and the photos he provided did nothing to bolster his case. But that’s pretty much par for the course in the dispute over Lepeuli, which has been characterized by wild accusations, ugly rumors, deliberate deceptions and some widely disparate perceptions of facts and reality.
The last time I wrote about this issue, a certain rabid blogger who has never actually walked any of the trails in question, or even been to that beach in 30 years, accused me of “sleeping with the enemy.” His post was republished by an aggregator, who sent me an email chiding me for breaking progressive lockstep with the snippy comment: “My point is, we would do better to present a united front, or at least a helping hand on issues like access and the enviroment [sic].”
Hey, I’m all for access and the environment, which is why I daily take advantage of the former to enjoy the latter. But I get a little bit hung up on the “united front” bit when it means spreading bullshit or burying the truth to bolster the cause of folks who, in their fight to retain one particular trail, have so lost sight of reality that they define the people who provided us with access as “the enemy.” And in the process, they foolishly undermined their objective by completely alienating those who could give them what they want.
Because the fact of the matter is that without Waioli, we wouldn’t have any easy access to Lepeuli. To provide a little historical context, let me quote a Feb. 7, 2011 letter from Ralph Daehler, the former state forester and Waioli board member who was instrumental in that process:
Waioli Corporation President Richard H. Sloggett, Sr. and Director Barnes Riznik were approached in the latter 1970s with a request by the County of Kauai to consider negotiating toward the establishment of a public access route across Waoli land [which Elsie and Mabel Wilcox purchased in 1935 to generate income for support of the Waioli Mission House] to Lepeuli Beach.
As a committee the three of us met with a representative of Kauai County. It was explained to us that the county was working towards establishing a series of shoreline access routes in the northeast area of Kauai County. We were shown a map with about 5 other proposed routes and were told that the county was in active negotiations with the other land owners.
The proposal included the conditions that if the negotiations were successful the county would: (A) Fence and maintain the road access portion, and, (B) Accomplish the construction development work on the foot trail portion and thereafter maintain it.
Despite some reservations, Waioli gave the county three acres of land for a road to a trailhead, as well as a path, which Daehler designed, to the beach. The alignment he chose “was routed to provide for an interesting and easy walking grade (after necessary construction development work to be accomplished by the county),” according to his letter.
I remember wishing that the land was state land so that I [could] put the State Division of Forestry and Wildlife field crew on the task of its development. I had no involvement nor request for involvement after the project was turned over to the county.
The county, as we all know, never did develop the trail. It also failed to fence the road access portion and record the easement, which Waioli finally did at its own expense. But the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste did threaten to sic the Health Department on Waioli if it didn’t deal with the illegal campers along the beach, and the county recently asked Waioli for a new easement to ensure continued access, which it was given.
Yet that didn’t stop ignorant people from excoriating Waioli — a nonprofit kama`aina corporation that runs Grove Farm Homestead museum and allows public use of the park in downtown Hanalei — as an evil, rich, off-island, greedy corporation hell bent on preventing public access when it moved to close off another, unauthorized trail across its land.
“There was never much of a thank you for providing access to these open places,” Waioli executive director Bob Schleck observed wryly. “To some people it’s been the notion of a thankless entitlement.”
Waioli hasn’t handled the situation faultlessly; hiring Laymon was probably its biggest mistake, though there aren’t that many guys out there who know how to run cattle — one way to keep the land in active ag — and are willing to run off illegal campers. And some of the opponents are to be applauded, most notably the Sierra Club, which stymied Bruce’s plans to run a fence parallel to the beach, and the Sproat family, which has focused on the cultural issue of an ala loa, or traditional coastal trail.
But I’ve really been dismayed by the actions and rhetoric of people who are doing the wrong thing for what I’m sure they believe is the right reason. Because not only have they wrongly smeared Waioli — “it cost Waioli’s reputation,” Schleck said — their antics would certainly give any coastal landowner now in a position to provide access pause.
As Daehler noted at the end of his letter:
Just one more thought. After Waioli Corporation had finalized its negotiations with the county I asked the county representative in charge of the northeast Kauai right-of-way program how many of the other five or so land owners he was dealing with negotiated to provide right-of-ways to the county. His answer was — “None of them were interested.”
Waioli Corporation should be commended and appreciated for going out of its way in doing its part years ago.
Not surprisingly, after being battered and bruised, Waioli isn't in such a giving state of mind these days. I recall the aforementioned rabid blogger criticizing me for not wanting to join him in digging up the "real" — read devious — reason why Waioli wouldn't simply sign over more acres of oceanfront land for access. His self-centered view is typical of others who can't understand that yes, it really is as simple as hurt feelings — "the kindness is missing in all this," Schleck said. Or as the old sayings go, "once burned, twice shy," and "don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
I recently asked Schleck if Waioli would be willing to reopen the lateral access, he said, "I would never say never." Encouraged, I asked if Waioli would be willing to deed over the trail, which many call the ala loa, that runs parallel to the beach, or perhaps put it into a temporary conservation easement that the Kauai Public Land Trust could manage, thus allowing public use.
He hesitated, noting the Board had considered such a possibility, then replied: "If they want the ala loa, fine. But give us back our access, and people can walk the ala loa all the way from Moloaa if they want to get to Lepeuli."
And my oh my, wouldn't folks scream then.