Mauna Loa trail links proposed
Several agencies hope to create a 350-mile network with lodges and new access roads
HILO » Federal, state, and private agencies are proposing a "world-class," 350-mile hiking trail network around Mauna Loa and to the summits of that mountain and adjoining Hualalai mountain.
The network would open the mountains to for-profit eco-tourism ventures but would leave control in the hands of a nonprofit management authority, according to a proposal by a steering committee of five agencies.
The Nature Conservancy, Kamehameha Schools, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the state Division of Forestry and the state's Na Ala Hele trails program, working in the committee, guided the completion last month of a 185-page proposal called Mauna Loa Trail System Feasibility Study. The study was announced publicly yesterday.
Much of the trail network already exists in the form of footpaths or four-wheel-drive roads, but many of the trails and roads do not interconnect, said Rob Shallenberger of the Nature Conservancy, which took the lead in writing the study.
"There's no linkage. You can't start at one place and come out at another," Shallenberger said.
The trails are generally at 4,000- to 7,000-foot elevations on Mauna Loa, but some go to the 13,679-foot summit of Mauna Loa in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and to the 8,271-foot summit of Hualalai, owned by Kamehameha Schools.
The trails need water sources, up to 15 overnight sites and access roads from main roads.
Two lodges are envisioned, each with 25 to 50 rooms, Shallenberger said.
The lodges would need Conservation District Use Permits from the state. In fact, the entire plan must meet the requirements of "a staggering variety of pertinent laws," the feasibility study says.
The plan would cost up to $50 million and take at least five years to create, Shallenberger said.
The final system would be comparable to the 2,160-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail and, like it, might receive national designation, or it might be administered under the state Na Ala Hele system.
Like the Appalachian trail, a nonprofit management authority could administer the system with for-profit lodges paying part of their proceeds to the authority, Shallenberger said.
Daily user fees of perhaps $10 a person could also pay costs.
For full build-out, the cooperation of six ranches would be needed. Their representatives and others would be added to an expanded steering committee, Shallenberger said.
A key component will be Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Ranger Mardie Lane said the park has yet to receive money to plan use of its own new lands at Kahuku, but the park considers the trail system "a wonderful idea" and will coordinate with it.
The feasibility study says a quarter of all U.S. visitors to Hawaii go hiking or camping, and the trail system could attract 200,000 users a year.
The study was funded by $90,000 from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, $45,000 from Kamehameha Schools and $45,000 in in-kind contributions from various agencies.