RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Signs were posted yesterday until the end of the day near the head of Koko Crater Trail telling hikers the trail was closed. This sign was posted at an area overlooking the gun range with Koko Crater in the background.
Shooting range seen as threat to hikers
The city backtracks after temporarily discouraging access to Koko Crater Trail
Hikers headed for a climb to the summit of Koko Head Crater yesterday were caught by surprise by signs saying the trail is closed and potentially dangerous because it is exposed to "live fire" from the Koko Head Shooting Range.
By the end of the day, city workers were taking the signs down -- at least temporarily.
"It's unacceptable for this to occur without consultation or prior notice," said Greg Knudsen, chairman of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board. The issue is likely to be on the agenda of the board's Feb. 26 meeting, he said.
The city initially responded to queries and complaints from area residents and hikers with a news release defending the trail closures. City Parks Director Lester Chang said increasing popularity of the undeveloped trail led to the action. "The concern of people walking up the ridge behind an active shooting range has been a longtime one," he said in a news release. He said the trail was never an open part of the Koko Head Regional Park complex.
About an hour later, the city released a second statement saying Chang had acted prematurely by posting signs without consulting the community and that the signs will come down.
About 50 people showed up for an impromptu rally at the foot of the trail late yesterday, many of them continuing to hike to the top.
The dirt trail on the western front of the 1,207-foot summit follows the roadbed of an abandoned railroad with wooden railway ties defining steps. It is touted on numerous Web sites as a visitor attraction because of the 360-degree view from the top of the volcanic cone.
Chang pointed out that the lower ridge is within range of weapons used at the firing range, and "stray bullets could inadvertently be pointed in that direction."
Knudsen responded: "The only way someone on the trail is endangered is if someone intentionally aimed a firearm at people on the trail. They are under very strict safety provisions at the range.
"If there's danger, it raises serious questions about having a firing range in a residential area. Those bullets that supposedly reach the trail could be continuing onward to residences. Maybe it's time to ask about relocation of the firing range," said Knudsen.
Hawaii Kai resident Paula Bender said thousands of people climb the trail. Some exercise enthusiasts use the trail frequently and have been climbing it for decades since before Koko Head District Park was developed, she said in a statement.