Polihale State Park is closed indefinitely after evidence of egregious behavior and overuse.
“This decision is based on input from staff, law enforcement, health officials and west Kauaʻi residents,” said State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell. “Polihale, like Kaʻena Point on Oʻahu has a history of abuse, illegal gatherings and camping.”
According to a Facebook post by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the area is nearly impossible to enforce park rules due to its large size and isolated location. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated those issues, and public health and safety concerns, contributed to the decision to close the park.
According to DLNR Division of State Parks, more than 1,000 people camped at Polihale on a recent weekend, though only 80 were legally permitted Several hundred parked trucks formed a line spanning nearly the entire two-mile long beach. There were reports of trucks racing on the beach and driving through dunes, which contain both Hawaiian burial sites and critically endangered plants.
Overuse has led to widespread defecation within the fragile dune system. There have been numerous complaints about large gatherings and a lack of social distancing, despite emergency orders.
“Until people can temper their behavior in the interest of everyone, we cannot responsibly leave places like Polihale open,” said State Parks Assistant Administrator Alan Carpenter. “There were many who did not want it reopened after recent road repairs, due to coronavirus concerns, but we wanted to give folks a chance to enjoy it and prove that they could treat places with respect in the absence of tourists. At Polihale, they failed in that regard, and it needs a rest.”
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cash-strapped, DLNR Division of State Parks has reported a disturbing series of incidents in parks, including:
• Vandalism and theft at Akaka Falls State Park on Hawai‘i Island. The pump house was broken into and photovoltaic panels, a controller box and batteries were stolen. Cost to replace these items and repair: $37,700.
• Illegal behavior at Ka‘ena Point State Park on O‘ahu. In both the Mākua-Keawaʻula (west) and Mokuleʻia (nort sections of the park, bad behavior, particularly at night and on weekends is resulting in a “wild west” mentality with illegal drinking, littering, beach bonfires and burning of rubber tires and large numbers of illegal campers in a park unit with almost no sanitary facilities.
• Aiea Bay State Park on O‘ahu. Virtually every fixture in the park restrooms – toilets, sinks, urinals and the gates, were destroyed by vandals, rendering the facilities completely inoperable. Estimated cost to replace these items and repair: $25,000.
• Illegal beach access and illegal camping in West Side Hawaiʻi Island parks impacting endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals and pup at Kīholo State Park Reserve and Kekaha Kai State Park. Signs to curb the illegal access were damaged or destroyed within a week of installation, and illegal vehicle access continues unabated.
Cottrell said this is not a comprehensive list of activities seen at parks across the state.
“During the coronavirus crisis, local residents have been the predominate users of state parks, flocking to park units and completely ignoring the rules and behaving in a manner visitors never did, jeopardizing their own safety and the resources and features we strive to care for,” Cottrell said.
With the loss of revenue from the visitor industry, Cottrell explained DLNR will be facing tough funding decisions.
“This is likely to mean not only a reduction in services like routine maintenance but could ultimately result in the closure of some parks,” he added.
The Division of State Parks relies on appropriations from the Legislature, significant operating income from entrance, parking, camping, lodging and concession fees – mostly collected from out-of-state visitors. Additionally, State Parks used to be allocated a very small portion of the State’s Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT) for a percentage of its funding. State Park income is flat – just like the hotel industry. As such, TAT collections and distributions have been suspended due to the COVID-19 and subsequent State fiscal crisis.
“Before COVID-19 hit, we had long-term plans for many improvements to parks across the state based on fee increases directed towards the visitor industry. This revenue is now uncertain,” Cottrell said. “It’s disheartening to see the level of disrespect some people are demonstrating towards parks and facilities while we are struggling to save operating funds, Our state parks belong to all of us, as residents of Hawai‘i.”
Anyone who sees suspicious or illegal activity occurring in a State Park is asked to call the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement immediately at 643-DLNR (3567), or download for free the DLNRTip app, which allows real-time reporting along with the submittal of photographs.
The featured image is “part of a massive crowd assembled at the Mokuʻeʻia Section of Kaʻena Point State Park on the Fourth of July. This raucous street and beach gathering was
dispersed by HPD, who indicated that is was verging on getting out of control.”