FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Residents gathered at Hahaione Elementary School in Hawaii Kai last night for a neighborhood board meeting on the city's proposal to close the Koko Crater trail. Karen Kramer, right, a regular trail user, picked up informational handouts prior to the meeting.
Parks chief apologizes for signs closing popular Hawaii Kai path
City Parks Director Lester Chang apologized last night to a crowd in Hawaii Kai gathered to keep the Koko Crater trail open because he did not "discuss the issue with the community" before putting up signs closing the trail Feb. 15.
"We were wrong to put up the signs," Chang said.
At issue is the safety of hikers near the Koko Head Rifle Range.
About 150 hiking and shooting enthusiasts, as well as law enforcement officers who use the target range, jammed the meeting of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board at Hahaione Elementary School last night.
Chang said the issue of public safety remains a concern that didn't exist before the closure in the 1990s of a Job Corps facility that acted as a physical buffer between the trail and the gun range. With steps made of old wooden railway ties, the trail on the western slope of 1,207-foot Koko Crater has grown in popularity in recent years, with some novice hikers actually wandering down onto the shooting range.
Police and state law enforcement officials said no hikers have been shot.
Chang has taken criticism from both groups.
"We are not here to take away recreational activities," he reassured the large gathering, adding that the signs were taken down after being inadvertently put up.
He said the department wants to see whether "two unlikely recreational activities can co-exist so closely."
Hiking groups said they don't want a fight with the gun community and are not interested in shutting down the range.
The Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club collected 100 signatures to keep the trail open.
Hawaii Kai resident Paula Bender said the signs the city put up and later took down created a rift between the two groups.
She asked whether the homes in the immediate areas, such as her own on Kaumakani Street less than a mile away, need to be condemned, along with the baseball field and tennis courts.
Chang insisted that the gun range did not threaten safety anywhere else in the area.
Many shooting enthusiasts showed up last night because of a rumor that the range, which is part of the Koko Head Regional Park complex, could be shut down.
Shooting enthusiast Brian Ching said, "Neither (party) wants the other to be eliminated."
He questioned why the city appears to be "provoking animosity between both sides."
"We should be supporting one another," he said.
He and others were suspicious of the possibility of private developers wanting to develop Koko Head.
Chang said that the department has been wrestling with the issue and how to best accommodate the two uses. But he emphasized that the path was never officially designated as a trail.