I would like to respond to the Oct. 4 Viewpoint accusing Haleakala Ranch Co. of disregarding the community by denying public access to the Haleakala Bridle Trail.
Haleakala Ranch opened access to the trail segment on our land more than a year ago. In May 2012, the ranch and the Department of Land and Natural Resources entered into a memorandum of agreement to provide guided hikes on the trail. To date, Haleakala Ranch, in collaboration with DLNR's Na Ala Hele Hawai'i Trail & Access Program, has successfully hosted eight free, guided hikes in response to modest public demand.
It is noteworthy that the state and the ranch agreed on a guided hike program in 2007 but legal opposition by the Viewpoint writer and his nonprofit organization, Public Access Trails Hawaii, effectively delayed public access until last year.
The complex history of the Haleakala Bridle Trail is not the simple story told in the Oct. 4 Viewpoint.
The purpose of the trail was to get to the summit of Haleakala, and the old horse trail, which originated in Makawao town, was about 13 miles long. Most of the trail traversed what are today Olinda homestead lots below the ranch and through what is now national park land above the ranch. Only about 4 miles of the trail crossed land owned by the ranch today.
During the early 1900s, Haleakala Ranch founders Harry and Sam Baldwin supported Maui community efforts to promote Haleakala crater as a major tourist attraction. This included improved crater access over ranch lands by way of a new horse trail completed in 1905. Today, a remnant portion of that trail crosses ranch pastures before ending at the national park's fenced border miles from the summit. It is this trail segment that is the focus of PATH's lawsuit against the ranch and the state.
Harry and Sam Baldwin also played a major role in the creation of Haleakala National Park and today's Haleakala Highway. In 1927, the ranch and the Territory of Hawaii exchanged lands to enable the creation of the national park. The territory received 9,500 acres of sensitive ecosystems and pastures within the proposed park boundary while the ranch received roughly the same acreage in the drought-prone regions of Kamaole, Waiohuli and Waiahono.
Importantly, as part of this exchange, the ranch gave the territory an 80-foot road corridor for a new highway originally planned to go from Olinda to the national park, replacing the 1905 horse trail. In 1930, the ranch agreed to the territory's request to move the road corridor from Olinda to its present route. After Haleakala Highway opened in 1935, the horse trail was abandoned. Harry and Sam Baldwin worked collaboratively and in good faith with the territory because all parties recognized the need to balance community benefit with the needs of the ranch.
This year, Haleakala Ranch is celebrating 125 years of ranching on Maui. Every Hawaii rancher can attest to the financial challenge of managing a livestock operation in the middle of the Pacific, particularly during periods of severe drought and economic uncertainty. We make no apology for diversifying our business to include commercial real estate investments. It is a necessary strategy that enables us to sustain our commitment to ranching and responsible management of 23,400 acres of agricultural land and 5,400 acres dedicated to conservation on Maui. Our entire operations staff is committed to ranching and land management on-island, so to characterize Haleakala Ranch as a commercial real estate investment company is simply wrong.
The public benefit from Maui's ranches is obvious when residents and visitors see green open-space vistas and enjoy locally produced foods. Unfettered public access across active and potentially hazardous pastureland serves neither public benefit nor the interests of any ranch operation.
Haleakala Ranch has successfully balanced the needs of the community with the needs of the company for well over a century. We look forward to continuing that legacy for future generations.
* Don Young is president and chief executive officer of Haleakala Ranch Co.