Tuesday, February 2, 1999


By Anthony Sommer, Star-Bulletin
Visitors Doug and Carol Penney of Lexington, Va., head
upstream in their kayak from Wailua River State Park. Last week,
Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation officials persuaded tour
operators to quit using the park as a staging area, at least until
permanent rules for the river can be adopted. Individuals like
the Penneys can still rent kayaks elsewhere and l
aunch them on the river.

Kayak tours on
Wailua River shut down

By Anthony Sommer


WAILUA -- Grudgingly but voluntarily, kayaking companies shut down guided tours of the Wailua River last week in the face of mounting pressure from the state Division of Boating.

The division stopped short of handing out cease-and-desist letters or citing companies, but state officials made it clear they would take further steps if tours weren't stopped.

"There is no desire on my part to pound a big hammer down," Director Howard Gehring said Friday..

But he quickly added all of the companies providing river tours have for years been violating state laws prohibiting use of a publicly owned river without a state permit.

For almost a decade, companies have operated under a set of rules they adopted themselves.

"The explosion of additional operators combined with other uses such as commercial water skiing and the tour barge companies have created a situation that must be regulated," Gehring said.

More than a dozen companies have been guiding thousands of visitors a week to Fern Grotto and Secret Falls. The Wailua River ranks with the Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon as a top visitor attraction on Kauai.

The Boating Divsion says the ban is a step until a permanent set of rules is adopted. A public hearing on draft rules that have not yet been unveiled tentatively has been set for March.

Individuals still may rent kayaks away from the river and launch them from Wailua River State Park. But kayaking companies no longer may run guided tours from the park, nor may they bring trailers loaded with kayaks to the park for rental to visitors.

Even the largest companies agree regulation is needed. But the sudden halt to what is a major part of their businesses came as a jolt.

"We're hurting," said Micco Godinez, who with his brother, Chico, has owned Kayak Kauai since 1984.

The company also operates tours on the Hanalei River and Huleia Stream (best known to movie-goers as the river where Indiana Jones jumped aboard a float plane in the opening of "Raiders of the Lost Ark").

Last week, Godinez shifted a group of visiting Canadian travel agents from a tour of the Wailua to a tour of the Huleia. "They were very disappointed," he said. "They'd been counting on paddling the Wailua River. It's been promoted all over the world and that's what people who come here want to do."

He estimates dozens of tour guides have suddenly become jobless because of the ban.

"We've laid off 10 people," Godinez said. "We've given notice to our landlord in Kapaa. We're looking for a smaller place."

Still, Godinez is not opposed to the regulation.

Another major operator, Rick Havilland, owner of Outfitters Kauai, is counting on agreements he has made with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private landowners to operate combined kayaking-hiking tours of the Huleia to make up for business he has lost on the Wailua.

Early customer reviews have been mixed.

"We were running kayaks on the Wailua seven days a week," Havilland said. "Last week, after I shut down on the Wailua, I offered to switch a group from Holland America's SS Rotterdam from the Wailua to the Huleia and they chose to cancel instead."

"Kayaking the Wailua is an important part of the Kauai experience," he added.

Havilland says the Boating Division should set aside the north bank of the river, where the park is located, for recreational use and the south bank for commercial use.

The operators now must wait until the Boating Divsion releases the draft regulations. That will be exactly 30 days before the yet to be scheduled hearing, Gehring said.

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