Cynthia Oi
Under the Sun
Cynthia Oi

Concessions in parks
serve food for thought

BRIEF showers glazed the parking lot and heightened humidity on an already sultry morning at the Pali lookout. Moist air thickened scents of pine needles, strawberry guava and other vegetation to compete with the aroma of grilled shrimp and kalbi.

The food smells along with the drone of a generator radiated from a brightly painted lunchwagon, or "mobile food concession," as the state land department calls the operations it is inviting more vendors to set up at parks across the islands.

Snugged against a rock wall lining the path to the lookout, the lunchwagon was flanked on one side by a grill and a table with whole pineapples on the other. Coolers heaped with ice and drinks were arranged next to another table bearing candies, chips, cookies, chilled sliced pineapple and wedges of coconut.

As Judy and Jim Eulitz walked to their rental car, Judy deftly slid shrimp off a skewer to pop into her mouth while Jim gnawed gamely at the teri-sauced meat.

They were glad to be able to pick up something to eat before continuing their tour of Oahu. Though they weren't particularly hungry, the food was there to be had and the prices -- $3 for the shrimp, $2 for the beef -- were tempting enough.

"Pop is only a buck," Jim noted. "At least they aren't gouging."

The Eulitzs, who live in a Detroit suburb, are five-time visitors to Hawaii. They'd been to the lookout once before, and were only slightly disappointed that the winds weren't blowing as usual. The "beautiful views" were sufficient, Judy said.

That's what the Pali lookout offers -- a panorama of the windward coastline from Kailua to Mokolii Island and a sweeping curtain of the Koolaus. Now, in response to recommendations of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, it is one of two state parks -- the other being Diamond Head -- that also offers food and drink.

About a dozen other parks could likewise sprout concessions as the state expands the food service an HTA survey says tourists want, and whatever tourists want, the state finds hard to ignore.

The Pali's meals on wheels operation is low key; just a big blue truck decorated with images of native birds and plants long gone from the landscape, an irony not lost on manager Brian Kim.

Kim , a former Kahoolawe activist whose contemporaries included George Helm, acknowledges that commercial activity detracts from Hawaii's natural areas. But Kim argues that the enterprises will go on whether locals like it or not. The state so shorts funding for parks that it is better that people like him, who keep the lookout clean and chase away drug dealers and thieves, who can promote understanding of island culture and customs, shoulder the responsibility.

"If it's not me and these people," he said, waving his hand toward the workers, "it's going to be somebody else who won't take care of the aina and won't educate the tourists."

He makes a good point and his team does a good job of keeping the site litter free. The lunchwagon's owner pays the state rent and sets up portable toilets that Kim says are badly needed to stop people from "going in the bushes."

Toilets are fine. But as long as the state's leaders continue to treat Hawaii's natural areas subordinately, commercial ventures will become more appealing to raise money to maintain them.

This sets off a cycle. As we make it easier and more convenient for visitors, additional people will be attracted, resulting in a bigger human toll on parks that will require more funds to keep them in good shape, which means expanding business activity and so on and so on.

Judy from Detroit said she likes having concessions at parks and scenic points. "As a tourist, it's handy. 'Course if I lived here, maybe I'd think different."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: coi@starbulletin.com.

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