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Monday, March 7, 2005
As the sun slowly rose on a recent blustery morning, Victoria Lyman paused her slow-going hike into Kaena Point State Park to survey the landscape.
She wasn't taking in the nature of the place -- the rowdy, wind-churned surf or the massive Waianae Mountain Range.
Instead, she was searching for the best place to take her next step among the winding maze of wide, thick tire tracks: rolling hills of mud pathways created and sustained by rogue four-wheelers -- those willing to break the law, endanger rare native plants and animals, and rough up the landscape all in the name of a joy ride.
Tips for Four-WheelersHere are a few guidelines on responsible four-wheeling:
» In Hawaii, all vehicles, including four-wheelers, are not permitted to drive on beaches.
» Stay on designated roads and trails or other areas open for use.
» Respect the environment and other trail users.
» Travel with a group of two or more vehicles, and buckle up.
» Contact the land manager or state for area restrictions. Ask permission from the landowner before crossing private property.
» Keep the noise and dust down.
» Pack out what you pack in.
Sources: State Department of Land and Natural Resources and Tread Lightly! -- a nonprofit dedicated to responsible outdoor recreation
But recently, state officials and off-roaders say, the number of four-wheelers in the state has been growing.
And the damage they inflict on the environment is worsening.
Illegal off-roading at Kaena Point State Park and other spots on Oahu is causing dangerous erosion and killing scores of native plants, including naupaka and ilima.
Beaches from Makua Beach on the Leeward Coast to Army Beach in Mokuleia are also seeing heavy traffic, with four-wheelers threatening ancient Hawaiian burial sites, shoreline animals, like the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, and even beachgoers.
"People test the limit," said Peter Young, director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. "They're making their own roads, going over beach areas and going out into the wild. It could be having significant impact.
"We have bird populations. We have turtles, plants, cultural sites," Young continued. "There's clearly a natural and cultural concern."
Young said there is also a danger to beachgoers as four-wheelers have been seen barreling down strips of beach, sometimes as late as dusk or even after nightfall. "People like to sit and watch the sunset -- they're at risk," Young said.
They saw the half-dozen mud bogs -- some as deep as 5 feet -- worn into the earth by four-wheelers, and the sand dunes blackened with tire tracks. They walked, and stumbled, along the dirt and mud roads, where patches of (in most cases, native) plants once thrived. And they saw the beginnings of new roads, tire tracks -- barely, but visibly, cutting through clusters of shoreline plants.
The Kaena trek strengthened Young's resolve to stop illegal off-roading.
But rather than combating it with stepped-up surveillance, which has proved ineffective in years past, he is talking to four-wheelers about building and maintaining a sanctioned track, perhaps even more than one.
There is even promise (albeit, still years down the line) for compromise -- a portion of land set aside specifically for the sport, just like off-road motorcyclists have in the Kahuku Motocross.
"We're committed," Young said. "We want to get it (four-wheeling) into a more managed environment. But there's no budget, there's no plan, there's no presumption of what's going to happen."
He also said DLNR is willing to work to find a designated place for four-wheeling on each of the islands.
The president of Oahu Four-Wheelers, Mike Yslan, has joined the DLNR's trails advisory council, which hikers, all-terrain vehicle drivers and off-road motorcyclists also sit on. He is pushing for a legal off-road area on Oahu and trying to educate off-road fans on where four-wheel drive vehicles are -- and are not -- allowed.
Right now there are no state trails or parks on Oahu that four-wheelers are permitted on.
They are also not allowed on any beaches.
A designated dirt road at Kaena State Park is used -- legally -- by four-wheelers, fishermen and enforcement officers. But four-wheeling off-roaders say wandering off the path is easy enough, especially since there are no signs to show the road's boundaries.
And, in several places at the park, other four-wheeler-created roads are nearly as wide as the designated path.
Meanwhile, DLNR Parks Administrator Dan Quinn says his primary aim in the coming months is to take on four-wheel driving on beaches.
Kaena State Park, he says, will come later.
"We got guys tearing up and down the beach ... at Army Beach, at Makua Beach," Quinn said, adding that enforcement and other measures will be taken in the areas.
There is also talk of putting up barricades at certain heavily used four-wheeling sites, especially since conventional gates do not seem to be working. "Sometimes the solution is a bigger barricade," he said. "Some people are just not aware of the problems they're creating."
Quinn said the lock at the Makua Beach gate, which is aimed at stopping four-wheelers and other vehicles, is cut almost every weekend.
That is not the type of thing Yslan, who is on the DLNR's citizens advisory council, likes to hear about. The Aloha Airlines pilot heads up Oahu Four-Wheelers, a club that advocates responsible four-wheel recreation.
He says the main reason there is illegal off-roading at Kaena State Park and other areas and across the state is because there are no legal places for off-roaders to go. And he feels the state has enough money to purchase land on Oahu for four-wheelers. "Right now they (four-wheelers) have nothing," Yslan said.
"It's a growing sport locally ... with hundreds of people going out on trails every weekend," he added.
Yslan is trying to convince his club members to visit trouble spots around the island to talk to four-wheelers about how to responsibly enjoy their vehicles. He is also suggested the state establish a permit system for four-wheeling, in which drivers would take a test or get a permit before going off-road.
LYMAN HAS made her move -- and she has mis-stepped. Her shoe is now submerged in mud, and she is fighting to keep it from becoming a casualty, lost to the muck.
"Four-wheelers abuse the land," she said later, after escaping from her predicament with an unrecognizable shoe and a muddy ankle. She then gave a long sigh -- as she stopped to shake her head at the scarred landscape -- that was only just audible under the crashing of the waves.
"It's called responsibility. ... There are some things in life that you just can't do."
The longtime Mokuleia resident has seen the entrance to Kaena Point State Park transformed from a green sanctuary to a muddy byway for four-wheelers. She owns land nearby, and some of it has been scarred by four-wheelers, she said.
Often she finds herself helping the same people she has grown to despise: Their vehicles get stuck in the mud nearly every weekend, and she helps them dig out.
Lyman said she supports a designated area on Oahu for four-wheelers but fears that the state's work to mediate the four-wheeler problem will come too late for Kaena State Park.
This winter alone, with lots of rain and lots of four-wheeling, she has seen heavy erosion of the area as the dirt that was once held down by plants washed down to the sea.