Kauai trail might stay closed
The state blocked the unauthorized trail after two women fell to their deaths
The state will not reopen access to an unauthorized trail to Opaekaa Falls on Kauai, where two women fell 300 feet to their deaths in December, unless it can be improved and made safer.
Though the trail to the falls is on state park land, "we didn't build it. It wasn't built as a trail," said Peter Young, director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees state parks.
Cousins Elizabeth Ann Brem, a 35-year-old lawyer and mother from Encinitas, Calif., and Paula Gonzalez Ramirez, 29, a businesswoman from Bogota, Colombia, fell to their deaths Dec. 19 after apparently taken a wrong turn on the trail.
The unmarked, unmaintained trail is listed in several guidebooks, but is not condoned by the state. It begins near a roadside lookout over the falls on Kuamoo Road and descends to the pool hundreds of yards below over steep terrain.
After the deaths, the state installed a steel fence blocking the makeshift trail and put up a stronger warning sign, "because we don't want people to get hurt," Young said yesterday.
The state previously had a sign warning, "Danger Keep Out -- Hazardous Conditions," but there was no fence blocking access and the sign was often ignored.
Russell Yee, the Kauai Fire Department's battalion chief, praised the state's decision yesterday.
"They have to do something," Yee said. "We don't want this to happen again."
The rugged trail is worn and dangerous, especially to visitors unfamiliar with its hazards, Yee said. The Fire Department has rescued many injured hikers there, "with everything from sprained ankles to death," he said.
Last year a young man fell many feet from the trail but was "hung up on a rock formation," which probably saved him, Yee said.
But Sierra Club members yesterday questioned the wisdom of blocking public access to wild places even if they are inherently treacherous.
"All over Kauai, we're really rugged," said Caren Diamond, a Kauai Sierra Club member. "I don't think we can begin to block off every dangerous place."
"We get nervous anytime you're blocking any public land," said Jeff Mikulina, state Sierra Club director. "We're fully supportive of complete disclosure and signage, but our preference is leaving things in their natural state and warning folks it's dangerous."
The DLNR remains open to hearing from the public about whether the state should see if it could make a safe trail to descend to the falls, Young said.
"Should we look into developing it as a trail or just leave it as a lookout," Young said.