The access road to Waihee Ridge Trail, one of Maui's most popular trails, has formal closing times now posted by the Maui County Boy Scouts of America because of late-night partying and destruction of the trail, according to Scout officials.
The state owns the trail and leases land to the Scout group, which has begun opening and closing a gate above Kahekili Highway from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The gate blocks visitors from driving up the access road and parking near the trail.
"A trail that's closed is not a trail," said Waihee Valley resident David Henderson Brown. "I've been there and . . . the trail opens whenever (the caretaker) opens it. It was open at 7:30 a.m. two or three weeks ago and it's not just me that's going up there, it's a very used trail."
The Maui County Boy Scouts of America has posted closing times for the access road to Waihee Ridge Trail. Previously, the road had no formal or posted times, but because of trespassing and vandalism, the Scouts close the gate at 5 p.m. and open it at 7 a.m.
The Maui News / TRESSA VERBER photo
Scout officials said that the opening and closing of the gate is nothing new, but officials with the Department of Land and Natural Resources only became aware of the formal times last month.
Torrie Nohara, trails and access specialist with the department's Division of Forestry and Wildlife, oversees the trail and said she is in talks with the Scouts to extend the gate's regular opening hours.
"They have to provide access, but they do not have to require vehicular access," Nohara said. "They're not doing anything wrong. I wish we had the stick to say leave the gate open . . . because for people to walk up the road, by the time you get up to the trail you'll want to turn back because that road is about a mile and it's steep."
Scout Executive Robert Nakagawa said that the reasons for the posted closing times stem from repeated loitering and vandalism in the trail parking lot and near Camp Maluhia, which is heavily used by the Scouts.
"According to my caretaker, he's basically cleaning up that parking lot every day due to all the trash and bottles," Nakagawa said. "We get a lot of people wandering around the campground, loitering and trespassing on the Scouts' property."
Kevin Cooney, trails and access technician and volunteer coordinator with the division, said that he regularly sees garbage leading up to and along the trail.
"When you have places like that, where gates aren't closed, you have kids going up and trashing the place," said Cooney, who has been with the division for nearly 20 years. "I just went up there . . . and (trash) was all over the place. One of the pullouts had rubbish and cans and graffiti, strewn out all over the road.
"It's a quiet place where all the kids like to go and party," he said.
The Scouts' leased land extends from an entry road off the highway, past the gate and ends up at an additional gate above the trail's parking area, Nakagawa said. Since the scheduled closing times went into effect, "there has been a lot less car break-ins and drug (activity)," he added.
"A lot of this happens after dark, so we tend to close it during that," he said. "But we're weighing a lot of options."
One of the long-term options Nakagawa and Nohara are weighing is an electronic fence that would automatically open and close. Wildlife officials believe the fence could extend the access road's opening and closing times for the trail that can see anywhere from 30 to 40 people per day.
"I don't have the numbers but . . . it's one of, if not our busiest trail," she said. "We're talking about getting an electronic gate that can automatically open and close. The gate would have a pad you drive up to that would let you out after closing, but not let you in. If we could do that then we could solve this problem so (the Scouts) could feel safe, and they don't have to close the gate off."
Nakagawa reiterated that the trail is open and that only the access road for cars is closed.
"If people want to hike for a sunrise trail hike they just have to hike a little farther than the bottom gate," he said.
Brown, a regular on the trail and executive director of Public Access Trails Hawaii, said that he has sympathy for the Scouts' caretakers' concerns about vandalism, but he called the decision to close the access road "bad management."
"When the park is opened, which it is not now, then all their trails are open 24 hours. The park is closed now, and therefore the trails are closed," he said, referring to the government shutdown and subsequent Haleakala National Park closing. "The problem is not the hikers. Their problem is people doing bad things in the parking lot, and that's the police's problem. At some point you have to draw a line, and there is no gate that works for me."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article includes a correction from the original published on Sunday, October 6. The Maui News apologizes for the error.