Saturday, December 11, 1999

State of Hawaii

Diamond Head crater improvements OK’d

A visitors center, an interpretive
center, more trails and a tram
are among the developments
approved by the land board

By Susan Kreifels


After decades in the making, a plan to develop Hawaii's best-known landmark finally has gotten the green light.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources yesterday unanimously approved the Diamond Head State Monument Master Plan which, among other things, calls for creating more trails inside the crater, tearing down government buildings, building an interpretive center and shuttling visitors to points of interest on a tram.

The plan, which drew no protest from the public at the board meeting, must still be reviewed for its environmental impact.

A $5-million revenue bond to fund the improvements will be included in the state budget going before the 2000 Legislature, according to Ralston Nagata, administrator of the Division of State Parks.

For E. Alison Kay, chairwoman of the Diamond Head Citizens Advisory Committee and a retired University of Hawaii zoology professor, the passage was a Christmas present. For 31 years, Kay's been searching for the best way to protect and develop the unique geological site.

Approval of the Diamond Head master plan will "enable us to realize its significance and history, a sacred place in pre-Western Hawaii, a beacon for 19th century sailors, a state and national monument," Kay testified before the board.

Instead of waiting longer while the crater continues to be "trashed inside," Kay said that "it's time that Diamond Head, the best-known symbol of Hawaii, lives up to its reputation."

Nagata said the U.S. military was expected to hand over the Cannon Club, which lies on Diamond Head's exterior slopes, early next year, with $1 million already available to complete the transfer.

Under the plan, the club will be used as an orientation center where visitors can also buy gifts and food. Cars eventually will be parked at the club's lot instead of inside the crater, and a tram will take visitors to various points of interest.

The number of visitors to the crater has skyrocketed from 40,000 in 1980 to more than 1 million a year. Last February, the board approved charging a $1-per-person entrance fee, a $10 annual walk-in pass, $5 per car, and more for larger vehicles.

The first plan was presented in 1979, and an updated version came out in October 1998. The final plan includes removing the National Guard and Federal Aviation Administration buildings in the crater, with those organizations moving to Barbers Point and Honolulu Airport, respectively.

An interpretive center of up to 20,000 square feet in size will be built approximately where the visitor area is now. An existing tunnel at Makapuu Street that now is closed will be opened for pedestrians and bicycles to enter the crater.

Planners hope opening up another entrance and more trails will prevent illegal hikers along the crater's rim from destroying endangered plant life.

Other points of interest -- some dating back to World War I -- also will be opened, with extra interpretive displays. Those include Battery Harlow, Tunnel 407 on the makai side, and Flat Top Reservoir. The plan also includes picnic areas.

A natural wetland in the center of the crater will be fed by water collected off the crater's slopes, and used for a nursery. Kay said restoring the crater's dryland system would preserve one of the few dryland environments left on Oahu.

David Blane, director of the state Office of Planning, said Gov. Ben Cayetano supported the master plan but wanted a smaller interpretive center and a place for small local gatherings that could be carefully controlled. The board said it would recommend the plan be fine-tuned to incorporate those changes.

Supporters shared a big sigh of relief after the vote. "This was the big hurdle," said Wesley Kinder, a member of the Diamond Head Citizens Advisory Committee. "This is a legacy for the Hawaiian people."

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