Trails need balance of protection, profits
A web of trails on Mauna Loa and Hualalai has been proposed.
THE knock of economic opportunity is difficult to ignore even along the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai
, as a proposal for a 350-mile network of trails and accompanying infrastructure to enlarge eco-tourism ventures on Hawaii island demonstrates.
Though linking existing paths and unimproved roads would open the mountains for cultural and recreational exploration, proponents should resist the lure of profits in designing the trail system through environmentally sensitive terrain. In addition, use of the trails should be limited to nonmotorized travel.
A study funded primarily by the Hawaii Tourism Authority and landowner Kamehameha Schools points out that 25 percent of tourists from the mainland seek out hiking and camping in the islands.
As Hawaii seeks to diversify tourism beyond shoreline and shopping, the state's wilderness locales are envisioned for expansion to attract a segment of the market yet to fully realize revenue potential here.
The trail system would certainly be appealing, but, as the study emphasizes, there are myriad issues to consider. Among them are basic matters such as supplying potable water, mitigating natural hazards -- Mauna Loa is an active volcano -- and providing shelter, either primitive campsites or comfortable lodges.
Conflicting uses need to be resolved. For example, allowing all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and other motorized equipment on the trails would present safety risks to hikers, horseback riders and bicyclists along with noise, dust and damage to wildlife.
Other concerns are liability for private landowners whose property trails would cross, sharing of maintenance expenses with for-profit enterprises, protecting rare plants and animals and cultural and archaeological sites, access for Hawaiians and many more.
All of these should be regarded, said Kamehameha official Peter Simmons, with the approach being "to ensure that the land is going to be better off."
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