Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Musings: Bridge at Hanakapiai

In an action that seems inconsident with a wilderness park, the state is proposing to build a bridge across Hanakapiai Stream.

According to a notice in the Office of Environmental Quality Control bulletin:

The Department of Land and Natural Resources, through the Division of State Parks and the Engineering Division, proposes to install a 4-foot wide, 82-foot long aluminum truss pedestrian bridge across Hanakāpīʻai Stream and construct approximately 50 feet of new trail approximately 50 feet long and 4 feet wide, to be created along the hillside to connect the bridge to the existing Kalalau Trail in the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park, on Kauaʻi Island, Hawai‘i. Approximately 200 square feet of vegetation would need to be removed, including one native hala tree.
The estimated total project cost is $506,000, including abutments, micropiles, trail improvements, helicopter installation, construction and $106,500 for the bridge itself. Work is projected to begin in early 2018 and would 10 weeks or 50 working days.

In a letter to OEQC Director Scott Glenn, state parks Administrator Curt Cottrell submitted the draft Environmental Assessment with an anticipated finding of no significant impact. The EA offers this rationale:

State Parks has identified a need to reduce the risk posed by flash flooding of Hanakāpīʻai Stream to hikers on the Kalalau Trail and to the County and State personnel who respond to hikers needing emergency assistance. The purpose of the project is to reduce this risk and the need for emergency missions to rescue stranded hikers.

In recent years, the number of hikers becoming stranded by Hanakāpīʻai Stream flooding has increased, as has the number of air and ground rescue missions.

Yeah, that's because there are way too many ill-prepared, ill-informed people hiking out there. According to the DEA, “Visitation to Hanakāpīʻai Beach and the Kalalau Trail has increased from 1,000 to 2,000 visitors daily.” That's insane, and the proliferation of pedestrian traffic is degrading both the environment and the experience.

The state has created a free-for-all along the Kalalau Trail, with its lack of education and enforcement. But rather than deal decisively with the overuse, it wants to start making it even easier for people to get back there. Why not continue to close the trail during flash flood and heavy rain events? Hapless hikers are still going to run into problems walking on the trail during torrential rains, with the bridge giving them a false sense of security that it's OK to be out in such conditions.

The DEA notes:

Additionally, KFD observes that stranded hikers are less likely to remain on the far side of a flooded river if rescuers are not going to retrieve them immediately, and instead attempt to ford the flooded stream. Previously, responders would immediately attend to stranded persons who were injured or in imminent danger, then wait for the flooding to recede to help the hikers out of the valley. Recently, however, an increasing number of hikers do not wait for the water to subside and have attempted to cross the flooded stream. These unassisted crossings puts the hikers in great danger and increase the number of ground and air rescues mounted by KFD to safely assist the stranded hikers.

Uh, this is a wilderness park. It doesn't include on-call rescues. No rescue personnel should be risking their own lives to pluck non-injured people out of the valley just because the stream is high. If people decide to stupidly risk their lives crossing a flooded stream, that's their choice. What's next? Paving the path so their white tennies don't get dirty?

According to the DEA, “The pedestrian bridge … is not expected to increase the current usage and visitation of the park.” Yet it offers nothing to back up that assertion. We all know the easier it is to get somewhere, the more people are gonna go.

The DEA continues:

In the case that the proposed bridge causes an increase in the number of visitors, the issue of managing park visitation is already being addressed by the Division of State Parks through the Hā‘ena State Park proposed MP and associated Draft Environmental Impact Statement submitted in July 2015. In the MP, Division of State Parks cites an increasing number of visitors over the past 30 years which could have detrimental effects on the natural and cultural resources in the area (see Table 3-1). In response, Hā‘ena State Park proposes for the first time to impose limits on the number of visitors allowed to enter the park to 900 people per day. Because hikers have to pass through Hā‘ena State Park to reach the Kalalau Trailhead, access to the trail and Hanakāpīʻai would be limited to 900 daily visitors as well. (DLNR Division of State Parks 2015). Because the timeframe of getting the MP approved and then implemented is longer than that of this bridge approval and construction, there would likely be a period during which the bridge exists but the limitations do not. 

But persons who participated in the Haena master plan process said the state never mentioned it intended to build a bridge at Hanakapiai. If it had, some of them would have withheld their approval of the plan. Instead, the first anyone heard of it was the OEQC notice.

[Clarification: Apparently some people who worked on the Haena State Park master plan were also working on a master plan for Na Pali State Park, so they were aware of the Hanakapiai bridge proposal. But the issue was not brought up as part of the Haena plan.]

The DEA continues:

Additionally, the twomile hike from the Kalalau trailhead to Hanakāpīʻai is rigorous, and unprepared and inexperienced hikers are likely to be deterred and limited by the difficulty of the trail as opposed to being attracted by a bridge.

Huh? The difficulty of the trail certainly hasn't deterred anyone, hence the need to rescue more people who don't know WTF they're doing.

The DEA acknowledges that there will be a visual impact. But don't worry, they're gonna make it look like it belongs:

Dark brown powder coating will be applied to the aluminum bridge structure to better assimilate the
structure with the natural landscape. Plastic wood composite decking will be laid on the walkway of the bridge to better match the natural aesthetic of the site.

Yes, plastic wood and aluminum should fit right in.

The state needs to start reducing the numbers of people going into Hanakapiai through education, a permitting system, rangers — whatever it takes, and right away. Even with a bridge across the stream, the fragile valley can't handle that many people tromping around. Once again, we're seeing what was once an exceptional wilderness experience dumbed down to the lowest common denominator in a never-ending effort to please the almighty tourist.

Enough already.


Anonymous said...

It is time to assess the ways in which we provide ACCESS to the "wilds" of pristine areas on our island. If we continue to allow people to get into these areas we then become accountable for their safety and security. The "local" hunters and hikers should be aware of the precautionary measures and be wary of the ways in which they prepare themselves to get in and out. Too many visitors, however, think that getting up, close, and personal is just a "hop, skip, and a jump", and are often times ill-prepared to cope with the challenges and difficulties.

Anonymous said...

Put up a guard house at the beginning of the trail and charge Hawaii ID holders $1 and all others $5 to pay for the guard's salary to monitor numbers, and to close the trail during inclement weather. Without a live guard, people will get around any sort of barrier that's built.

Anonymous said...

Just waiting for the day when some lunatic proposes the accessibility for the disabled to Kalalau Valley. Then when they built it, they will come.

Allan Parachini said...

I did a column in The Garden Island dealing with some of these issues recently and the problem with Haena and Ke`e Beach congestion is largely due to over-use of the trail. As is the case in countless other parks, from Maui to places on the mainland, trail use and/or parking should be limited by requiring permits for both day hikers and campers, with a cap on the number of permits issued per day.Parking restrictions should be rigidly enforced and fees charged. This would, indeed, require on-scene enforcement at the trail head and in the park, but there is really no other way for the Kalalau to survive. These changes do not need to wait for implementation of the new master plan. They could be introduced immediately. The status quo is not an option as the trail and the wilderness are being over-used into oblivion. Local residents should get special consideration in the permit process and any fees to be charged, but the bottom line is we need better control of the trail to save the environment. The merits of the bridge can be argued both ways,but the reality is that KFD expends an inordinate amount of time rescuing stupid people up there, but the department can hardly be expected to refuse to respond to rescue calls, as any one of them could involve serious injury, illness or fatalities. If there are fewer people on the trail, everything about the back country experience in Haena and the Napali will improve and KFD's rescue caseload will be reduced.

John Kauai said...

Just one more data point supporting the hypothesis that there are just too many people in the world. Contribute to Planned Parenthood.

I like the guard idea.

I haven't been up to the trail in maybe 10 years. The last time I went to Ke`e was maybe 5 years ago. It isn't the people so much as the lack of parking.

However, I do get tired of hearing how everything on Kauai is "pristine". Pristine is those parts of the Grand Canyon that allow only one (yes 1) access permit (for a group that is limited in number) that (for example) might cover several days beyond Horseshoe mesa. Even then, the presence of other people is everywhere.

Pristine is the limited access to the Boundary Waters (in Minnesota) where folks can't leave marks because they are canoeing across the lakes and rivers and MUST stop at only designated campsites. (of course, some giant corporate conglomerate wants to build an open pit mine in the middle of it so Google can build your "smart phone".)

Calling Kauai "pristine" denies the human actions (including the TNR cat people) that are destroying it.

Anonymous said...

That gives me an idea. John, you should start writing lengthy and vacuous letters to the Minnesota Boundary Newspapers and local blogs. I'm sure that they will tolerate you, especially if they were able to tolerate Garrison Keller. All kidding aside, you need to get a 40 hour per week job that keeps you busy and not writing banal stuff the TGI and this blog.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Joan for this little tidbit of that further exposes how ridiculous our State has become.
If someone wants to take a little hike, so what, let them hike.
The sanctimonious assholes like Alan Parachini and the likes of newcomers like his own self can take also take a hike. A long one.
If someone can find a place to park, let them take a stroll. Big deal.
Put a sign up.....no go if water is high.
Tourists will always take risks. Even the know-it-alls like Alan P. We all make mistakes when we are on a vacation. And even the Kauai guys take risks on trails and water.
There is a risk to life. It ain't nobody's fault. From the first breath you take to the last gasp, we are all under the watchful eye. Pristine, mundane or deplorable.
One of the many things about your blog is that you bring to the public's attention many asinine ideas the State or County does.
And your blog also brings out asinine comments from John Kauai (and my own self) who probably hasn't seen the outside of a Ti Plant, let alone Hanakapiai and then there is "Jesus when will he shut the f*ck up'?" Alan P.....who makes his money off of the rich newbies or unsuspecting toureye with gawdawful watchacallits.
We sure gots a lot of know-it-alls on this island. Why just not let it be.
And Alan, sellin' $5,000 ugly ass coffee clutch tables should also be "illegal"..........Great Gawd Almighty, fume me with JoAnn's buses, Mason's hyperbole and DaHoos' outright desperation.
Now we got all manner of folks lettin' us know what "pristine" is and bragging about their great idears on how to charge to use God's good earth and KFD's resources.
Alan P......KFD is the most over-funded, highest paid and over manned entity on Kauai. Where else do you have an entire department, down to the man, whose biggest worry is "Holy F*ck, it is my turn to cook and I don't know what to make." Oh wait, I just saw 8 of those KFD guys in three big trucks shopping at Costco...whew, at least we know their dinner is covered.
Now if they gave half of the lazy KFD money to the Lifeguards.....that would be a good thing. The Lifeguards actually work.
The Lifeguards save lives.........KFD hasn't stopped a fire a many a moon. And 1 in 7 of these fellers makes over 100,000 per year. Not bad....

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry a bit about this bridge cause the state can't even fill a pothole in Haena!

Anonymous said...

Though I agree that the trails have become overused, and that visitors need to be better prepared for conditions, a bridge crossing the stream will be welcomed for both seasoned locals and new hikers. Frankly, it is not the right of "locals" to determine who can and cannot enjoy Kalalau and Hanakapiai. The state is making the right decision.

Anonymous said...

I hate all of you. All 30K that have infested my island.

Anonymous said...

No to the bridge . It will result in far more deaths and injuries as people walk across easily. Too bad the river is not the only danger to overcome or it might work, but there are so many streams and waterfalls on both sides. Yes the weather can turn quickly and the river will rise amazingly quick, but it is not like you are safe once you cross either side when the weather is bad. It is an idea that should never come to pass.

Anonymous said...

So how many more people that should never have been able to be on the Hanakapiai side of the river will get trapped down the coast or at the waterfall if they put that bridge in?

Anonymous said...

That bridge will save lives and make rescues safer and easier for the men of Firestation #1. Why are you against everything? I bet if it was Syngenta putting it in, you'd be viciously in favor of it and demean everyone who was opposed.

Anonymous said...

I am always weary of more Gov..... But,,,, I think that area is worthy of National Park distinction!! NaPali and Kokee.

These (NP) are real rangers with degrees and physical stamina too make sure people have permits. And realize the need for the locals to come hunt and manage Hogs, goats ect..

I am very open to why this would not work? And I dought the NPS would build a footbridge two miles in from the trailhead. I am sure that they would insure that the Waimea Canyon overlooks are accessible for the disabled!

Anonymous said...

Joan, thank you for this post and your perspectives on the issue. Having hiked the Kalalau trail multiple times I am torn but am interested to hear your thoughts on whether this should really have been considered as part of a broader plan to mange the congestion at Ke'e. It seems to make it hard for local residents to casually drop by the beach or go for a hike due to the ridiculous parking congestion. And over the last 12 years I have seen a big increase in the total number of people on the trail when I have hiked it and a significant increase in the number of completely unprepared hikers who should not be on the trail for their own safety. And the condition of the trail has deteriorated as a result and there are more bushwhacks and resulting erosion it seems. I don't claim to know what is the right solution but it seems as if there is a real need to do something at Ke'e and the trail head to better control access (open to locals, limited by volume for visitors?). I would love to see a follow up piece on this but know you have plenty of other concerns to address in your posts. Thanks again!

John Kauai said...

dought: past tense of dow

Anonymous said...

Dont need a bridge, a guard or anything. Common sense. You dont have it, you might die. Darwin in action. Women hiking while many months pregnant? Absolutely stupid.

Anonymous said...

Check out the incredible World Heritage Site, Cinque Terre in Italy. Similar to Na Pali in many ways, main difference is the existence of medieval villages in 3 valleys nestled in the cliffs connected by a trail system that is maintained using fees from entrance fees. Landslides are common and the trail is closed in sections until it can be safely repaired. Something to consider for the Na Pali trail system. Especially the cafes and restaurants at the end of the trail as you enter & leave each village!


Anonymous said...

Cinque Terre in Italy is no model for Na Pali, those are big villages - I stayed in Monterosso and Manarola about 3 years ago and hiked between the villages. They also have a train system that goes between the villages, you want that too? Then just move there. Keep Kauai chill.

Anonymous said...

Keep the wilderness wild, and keep unprepared people out of situations that could bring them to grief or result in a costly rescue. User fees supporting a ranger station at the trail head (as well as supporting the great volunteers and paid workers who do maintenance on the trail) would be a good start to deterring casual/unprepared hikers. But please don't turn it into a Hawaii theme park. Everyone should be warned that if they don't have serious hiking experience and know how to ford a stream safely (and when not to) that they should not be on the trail and will be liable for the cost of a rescue due to their own carelessness.