Sunday, May 12, 2002

The Manoa Falls Trail opened yesterday after a landslide several months ago. Aaron Lowe, trail and access specialist for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, handed out trail information brochures and signal whistles yesterday to Lisa Johnsen, a former Honolulu resident, and Ole Pely, who were visiting from Chicago.

Manoa Falls opens

Hikers can navigate the trail but
must stay in designated areas

By Rod Antone

A pair of young hikers arrived at the 100-foot waterfall at the end of the Manoa Falls Trail yesterday morning and stopped to read the warning signs that said "DANGER, STOP!" and "Landslide Area."

"That kind of sucks," said one of them, a Hawaii Pacific University Student in her early 20s.

The other hiker, a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Hawaii, mumbles something about the restrictions being "hella stupid." Before too long, both have strolled past the warning signs and a cable fence and start splashing their faces with water.

The trail reopened for the first time yesterday after a landslide several months ago brought down about 370 cubic yards of rocks and dirt.

Officials say there is still a danger from rockslides and those who get caught ignoring the warnings could face up to a $500 fine.

Visitors to the waterfall area must stay within a cordoned-off area, some 40 feet away from the pool. State officials said the distance is far enough that people should be safe from falling rocks, even if they should ricochet upon impact.

"The public's going to just have to trust us on this," said state Trails and Access Specialist Aaron Lowe.

"We've been up in the helicopter and we can see stuff, there's still loose fragments and debris up there."

Members of the Korean Hiking Club, from Honolulu, prepared to head up the Manoa Falls Trail yesterday. Warning signs let visitors know about potential dangers.

Other hikers point out that there are worse things than not being able to swim.

"Glad they opened up the trail as quickly as they did," said Niu Valley resident Vernon Char. "Unlike Sacred Falls."

It was on Mothers Day three years ago, when a landslide at Sacred Falls State Park killed eight people and injured 34 others. Geologists later said that the rockfall hazard at Sacred Falls was still present and ever since then the park has been closed to the public.

"A lot of tourists and visitors don't understand the potential danger," said Char, who besides being an avid hiker is also an attorney. "There are liability issues, it's important to have rules that are enforced."

Lowe said the difference between Sacred Falls and Manoa Falls is that geologists saw that there was less of a grade on the left-hand side of the mountain at Manoa, providing for a safe area for people to gather and view the falls.

"At Sacred Falls you have steep cliffs on both sides," said Lowe, who adds that the reopening of the Manoa Falls Trail had nothing to do with the anniversary of Sacred Falls. "We just wanted to open it up as quickly as possible and this is how it worked out."

The Manoa Falls Trail officially reopened at 7:15 a.m. attracting about 163 people by 4 p.m., state officials said. Some of them first time visitors, others old friends of the falls.

"I like the way they did it, they did a good job," said Kaneohe resident Don Fallis. "I was kind of concerned that we wouldn't be able to see anything, but it's fine."

"We used to come up once a month because it's such an easy trail for the kids and our dog," said Manoa resident Karen Whalen, who was accompanied by daughter Piper, son Jim and dog Rodeo. "We would just come up here after the beach to rinse off at the waterfall."

"I won't let them go in now ... but we do miss it."

Regina Frazier of Moanalua was content to snap picture after picture of the waterfall from the viewing area. She said she heard about the hike from a couple of friends who sneaked onto the trail while it was closed.

"I wasn't about to do that," Frazier said. "But we did want to come see it."

Behind her, Frazier's husband Mario remarked that "it seems like wherever you go the government is telling you that you can't do this or see that."

Later he added, "I'm not jumping in, but it would be nice."

Lowe warns that while the state expects a small number of those who will disobey the rules, the hope is that the majority of hikers will respect the boundaries.

And if they don't?

"If we see continuous non-compliance of the barrier and the signs," said Lowe. "We will close the trail again."

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