By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Hikers wind their way down the Manoa Falls Trail, one
of the trails targeted for commercial tour control.
The foot patrol
The state is aiming to curbBy Cynthia Oi
the impact of commercial
tours on hiking trails
The grinding buses snug up one next to the other in a diesel-stenched parking lot as tourists pour from them. Tour leaders, bull horns squawking, corral their charges, check name tags and collect tickets.
Fanny packs strapped and loaded, the tourists head down Makiki Cliff Trail -- slowly, because traffic on the trail is backpack to backpack, much like on the H-1 at rush hour.
Along the path, the songs of forest birds are muted against the whooping laughter and shouts of humans. Shrubs and small plants lie broken and crushed by the hundreds of feet that stomp through their habitat daily. The trail itself is eroded, falling away in sections, the soil vulnerable to slides when a hard rain falls.
This scenario is one Curt Cottrell hopes will never become reality in Hawaii.
Cottrell, manager for the state's Na Ala Hele Trails and Access Program, said his office and the state Board of Land & Natural Resources, have adopted a plan to manage the number of commercial tour operators using Hawaii's hiking trails.
"If ecotourism is perceived as one of the solutions to the state economy -- and we've witnessed an increasing number of entrepreneurs using trails to conduct tours -- we're concerned that if we don't intervene, public resources are going to be damaged from overuse," Cottrell said. "We trying to step in ahead of the curve."
To that end, the number of people in each tour group will be limited on certain trails, he said. Also, the tours will be allowed only on weekdays when residents are less likely to compete for use of the trails, he said.
By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Thousands of footsteps day after day leave a permanent
impact on Hawaii's hiking trails.Plans are underway to
limit the number of commercial tours on sensitive sites.
Commercial operators will have to apply for permits to run tours on specific trails on specific days. They will pay $1 per person to hold a spot, then an additional $2 per person when the tour is conducted; the $1 fee will be assessed even if a tour is cancelled.
The money will go directly to the program to be used for trail and resource maintenance, Cottrell said. (Twenty percent also will go to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for use of ceded land.)
"We're not trying to make a ton of money on this," he said. "In exchange for allowing the private sector to use a public trust resource, we're telling them that it's fair for them to give us some money to chip into the pot for maintenance."
Cottrell said the department's policy is that protecting the resource -- in this case hiking trails and access roads -- is primary. Next comes the general public's use for recreation, then commercial activity.
Na Ala Hele also is concerned about the impact of trail tours on island hikers, "in terms of competition for parking at trail heads and whether their experience is going to be diminished by sharing the trail with commercial vendors and the numbers they would bring.
"So we want to step in before the trails get overused and there's damage we have to fix and before the public kinda says 'Aw, I'm not going there anymore, there are too many vendors.'
"When was the last time you went to Hanauma Bay? We would hate to see, say the Manoa Cliffs Trail, reach the kind of numbers where the families who go hike there find it choked with commercial vendors and have the resource suffer.
John Alford of Ohana Adventure Tours, who also serves on Na Ala Hele's advisory group, believes the program is a good idea all around.
Limiting the number of tour groups will reduce the physical impact on the trail as well as maintaining a wilderness experience for the hikers, Alford said.
"It's not going to be crowded on the trails and the money recouped will be used for trail maintenance," Alford said. "If people are going to be profiting from using trails, they are going to have to give back."
By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Few would want to destroy such pristine spaces as this,
off Manoa Falls Trail, but humans tend to leave imprints
on the land, no matter how lightly they tread.
Renate Gassmann-Duvall, owner of Paths in Paradise on Maui, objects to the permit process because she cannot predict what her company's needs will be for a particular trail on a particular day.
"Sometimes our clients call only two days before to schedule tours," she said. Many decide to take the tour on the spur of the moment. If she hasn't reserved space on the trail they choose, she cannot take their business, she said.
She also thinks that enforcement will be a problem and that local companies will be the only ones regulated.
"Lots of companies come in from the mainland, from Japan. They take tourists on the trails but they will not have a permit. Who will know when they go on the trails? Who's going to ask them if they have a permit?," she said.
Cottrell said land department officials will monitor trails to assure commercial tours have permits, but the agency will also depend on legal operators to let Na Ala Hele know when they encounter those who aren't.
Gassmann-Duvall, who charges $75 per person for a half-day tour and $95 per person for a full day, said fees aren't so much a problem as the reservation system.
"I think it will fuel more companies to go underground, not apply for a permit. It will lead more to people trying to find trails which are not legal," she said.
Charles Lamoureux, director at Lyon Arboretum and professor of botany at the University of Hawaii, often leads educational groups on hiking trails. He said that as long as the state differentiates between a "bona fide educational program" and a for-profit tour group, "I have no problem with it."
Lamoureux sees a need for the program. At the arboretum, he's seen what problems can come from the excessive number of tours on one trail.
"The Manoa Falls Trail starts right at the base of our hill and we sometimes have trouble getting into our driveway because there are so many commercial vans up there with tourists," he said.
"I think limiting the number of commercial groups is fine. You can still come up as an individual with no trouble," Lamoureux said. "And as long as the money goes to maintaining the trail, I think it's good idea."
These are Na Ala Hele program trails and access roads:
Trails at risk
HAWAIIAla Kahakai Trail
Puu Huluhulu Trail
Puu Oo Horse Trail
Ainapo Access Road and Trail
Doctor's Pit Trail
Mauna Loa Observatory Access Road
Puu Laau Access Road
Mauana Kea Access Road
KAUAINualolo Cliff Trail
Milolii Ridge Road
Kauhao Ridge Road
Kaaweiki Ridge Road
Polihale Ridge Road
Haeleele Ridge Road
Lapa Ridge Road, Lapa Loop
Mohihi-Camp 10 Road
Alakai Swamp Trail
Kawaikoi Stream Trail
Poomau Canyon Vista Trail
Koaie Canyon Trail
Iliau Nature Loop
Waimea Canyon Trail
Wailua Forest Management Road
Kohua Ridge Trail
Makaha Access Road
Makaha Arboretum Road
Pine Forest Drive
LANAIKaiolohia-Kahue Coastal Trail
Lanai Fisherman Trail
Awalua-Kahue Coastal Trail
MAUIWaihee Ridge Trail
Lahaina Pali Trail
Ke Alaloa O Maui
Waihou Spring Trail
Haleakala Ridge Trail
Waikamoi Ridge Trail
Keanae Arboretum Walk
OAHUMokuleia-Kuaokala Firebreak Access Road
Kealia Access Road and Trail
Mokuleia Forest Reserve Access
Hauula Loop Trail
Maakua Gulch Trail
Maakua Ridge Trail
Poamoho Access Road and Trail
Honolulu Mauka Trail System
Maunawili Pali Access Trail
Maunawili Falls Trail
Maunawili Ditch Trail
Hawaiiloa Ridge Trail
Kuliouou Valley Trail
Kuliouou Ridge Trail
Kaiwa Ridge Trail
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