Kauai News

DLNR Working Toward Reopening Polihale State Park

Posted September 12, 2020, 10:20 AM HST ·Updated September 12, 8:22 AM

Polihale State Park (PC: DLNR)

The DLNR Division of State Parks (DSP) is preparing for the reopening of Polihale State Park after it was shut down in July due to overuse and abuse.

While no firm date has yet been set, reopening will likely happen within weeks, however, if park users do not comply with park rules, it will be closed again. Prior to its closure, an estimated 1,000 people camped illegally on one weekend.

“Clearly we have management and enforcement deficiencies, made worse by the current pandemic and related fiscal constraints”, said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case. “We will not allow resources to be degraded, so we are asking park users to behave as expected or we will be forced to close Polihale again.”

DSP leadership has been meeting with lineal and cultural descendant families from the area to exchange ideas and formulate short, medium, and long-term plans for improved park management. Some have been granted cultural access to the park area to conduct clean-ups and mālama cultural sites, including burials, located within the sensitive dune system.

Although these families have been caring for the ‘aina for generations, many others are not aware of the cultural significance of the area. It is hoped that widespread adoption of caring for Polihale will lead to much improved compliance.

“A stewardship agreement is a potential outcome, and would be a welcome augmentation for park maintenance and management,” said DSP administrator Curt Cottrell. “In the near-term, DSP will install clearer messaging of park rules through new signage and printed flyers. 30 new speedbumps have already been installed to discourage speeding and damage to the parkʻs five-mile-long unimproved entry road. A decision on whether to allow overnight camping has not been made.”

Mid-term proposals include a possible permit entry system for all vehicles entering the park. A successful model has been in place for years at Oʻahuʻs Kaʻena Point State Park, where permittees are provided explicit maps of designated roads. They commit to abiding by all rules and are subject to having their access revoked if they break them.

Long-term measures include capital improvement projects aimed at protecting the dunes, enhancing access, parking, and camping areas, as well as adding better educational and interpretive devices to focus on the important cultural and natural resources of the park. Adding toilets near the Poʻoahonu (Queenʻs Pond) area of the park is also critical to protecting the sanctity of this area.

A long-standing issue is the dangerous combination of driving on the beach and camping without permits. Both are illegal activities under State Parks Administrative rules.

“In the future this could be regulated via a permit process or rule change but, for now, park users are reminded that driving on the beach or through the dunes is illegal,” Cottrell said. “To address this issue, DSP is working towards designating certain beach areas at Polihale for restricted transiting, parking, and boat launching.”

Implementing any significant new management measures is a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. State budget woes and hiring freezes have prompted DLNR to encourage kokua from the Kauaʻi community.

“We’re trying determine how much people really care about Polihale’ s natural and cultural resources,” Cottrell added. “Reopening with new guidelines is an opportunity to see.”