RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
The new parking lots near the Makapuu Lookout are almost ready to be opened. Currently, hikers must park along the highway.
Makapuu parking lots set to open
Hiking enthusiasts fear the 55 stalls will barely handle demand at the popular scenic lookout
Hugh Ogier is glad he will no longer have to dodge speeding cars to access the Makapuu hike when two new parking lots open in the area, possibly by the end of the month.
But he still has one concern: finding an empty stall.
"I don't think it's going to be enough," the 44-year-old said yesterday before getting into his car, one of 50 parked on the shoulder of Kalanianaole Highway. "It's going to be like Hanauma Bay. It's going to be crowded."
Several hikers yesterday praised the $5 million project aimed at stopping people from parking on the side of the busy highway. However, most of them doubted the lots would fulfill that goal after being reduced to preserve the scenery.
The state said the two lots, which will offer 19 stalls by the lookout and another 36 spots at the bottom of a winding, 2.5-mile hike, could be ready by the end of the month. Unusually heavy rain in February and March caused a four-month delay to the project by Robison Construction Inc., said Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The state has no estimate on the daily number of people who visit the lookout or take the hike, which leads to a lighthouse as well as a number of saltwater pools and blowholes. Parking was cut down because nearby residents complained that bigger lots could pollute the area, said DLNR Director Peter Young. The project will not include restrooms or water fountains because the Makapuu hike is relatively short, he said. The gates leading to the stalls, bordered by lava rocks and trees, will be open from dawn to dusk, Young said. Buses will not be allowed into the lots.
Anthony Paresa, from the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, said the state and the board agreed a few years back that the lots were needed for safety.
"Nobody wanted to have 400 parking stalls," he said, "but we had to try to get the parking lot as minimal as possible because the whole attraction is the natural landscape."
The Ka Iwi property was once proposed as the site of a golf course and resort, but a public outcry led to its preservation as Oahu's last large open space along a coastline. In June 2001 the state bought the land from Kamehameha Schools for $12.8 million.
The view from Makapuu Lookout is spectacular in both directions, with Waimanalo Bay on one side and the deep, blue Ka Iwi Channel on the other.
While they agreed to sacrificing some stalls to "save the green," Greg and Miki Maeda worried about traffic during holidays, sunny weekends and in the whale-watching season, when vehicles pack the uneven shoulder on both sides of the road from late November to mid-April.
"We saw about 40 to 50 people up there today," said Greg Maeda, 43. "In the busy season it might not be enough."
Marlo Ibeanez, who is visiting from Arizona with eight relatives, understood why residents would want to preserve the area's wild character, but said the state should make sure tourists are well served.
"If you are a resident, it's a legitimate concern," said Ibeanez, 36. "But if you are a tourist, I'm not too sure."
It is unclear what will happen with drivers who continue to park on the side of the road once the lots open. There are two signs warning people not to park on the mountain side of the highway, but none on the ocean side, where the shoulder lane was trimmed to accommodate a bike lane.
The blueprint for the project does not include parking signs along the shoulder, said Scott Ishikawa, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, which is supervising the construction. "Knowing there's a bike lane along the ocean side of the highway, we may have to take a second look," he said. "The whole intent of the parking lot was to keep them away from the roadside."