WAILUKU - In a trial to decide whether the state or Haleakala Ranch owns Haleakala Trail, a 2nd Circuit Court jury is being asked to weigh a centuries-old state law against private property rights.
"I believe this is going to be an interesting journey for us," Deputy Attorney General William Wynhoff said during his opening statement to jurors Tuesday. "We are going to travel back in time to the beginnings of Hawaii property law."
Wynhoff is representing the state, which is aligned with Public Access Trails Hawaii, a nonprofit group that brought the lawsuit against the ranch in January 2011.
Attorney Tom Pierce, representing PATH, said the trail running from Makawao to the summit of Haleakala is a public way under the Highways Act of 1892, which designated that trails opened and built by the government are owned by the government.
Pierce said Haleakala Ranch was incorporated in the fall of 1888 and took title of the ahupuaa of Kalialinui, which the trail runs through. The owners, Lorrin Thurston, W.O. Smith and H.P. Baldwin, were "very smart, very powerful individuals," who had influence, Pierce said.
To attract more visitors wanting to see the crater, the owners encouraged the government to spend money on the trail, which it did in 1888 and again in 1905, Pierce said.
"The evidence is going to show a significant history of public access, a significant history of Haleakala Ranch Company encouraging access," Pierce said.
He asked jurors to "focus on two important things - Did the public use it? And did the government improve it?"
PATH's mission, Pierce said, is to "create community through creating trails."
The lawsuit was certified as a class-action lawsuit to include anyone in the public who might want to use the trail in the future, Pierce said.
"It is not just about ownership," Pierce said during his opening statement. "It's about preserving a legacy. It's about preserving opportunities for future generations."
But attorney Michael Gibson, representing Haleakala Ranch, said the case was "an attempt by the plaintiffs and the state to commit an injustice."
He said the land in question has been privately owned since the Great Mahele of 1848 and under Haleakala Ranch control since 1888.
"Since 1900, there has not been a single trail that went from being private property to being owned by the government," Gibson said. "Haleakala Ranch did not make a deed of the trail to the state. Haleakala Ranch did not surrender or dedicate or abandon the trail.
"Haleakala Ranch has not been paid a penny for the land that the state and the plaintiffs claim are public property."
He said the plaintiffs and state are claiming only a portion of the trail, which stops at the boundary between the ranch and the National Park Service and doesn't go to the summit.
Both sides said the trial was not to determine issues of access, liability and management of the trail.
"This case is not about taking traditional and customary Hawaiian rights," Gibson said. "Any Native Hawaiian who has hunting and gathering and other rights to conduct is not going to have those rights impacted, whether the state owns the property or the ranch owns the property.
"Haleakala Ranch is saying this is a trail, but it's owned by Haleakala Ranch, not the state."
Gibson asked jurors not to be swayed by the plaintiffs' "much more high-tech presentation" and nearly 500 exhibits, compared with 70 for the ranch. He said the plaintiffs would have to prove ownership and location of the trail.
"We believe that the trail is not and should not be the first privately owned piece of property that somehow got changed to publicly owned without any payment to the landowner or any agreement, written or oral," Gibson said.
Attorneys made their opening statements late Tuesday afternoon, following two days of jury selection to seat 12 jurors and three alternate jurors.
On Wednesday, the state presented maps predating 1905 that they believe show early markings of Haleakala Trail. State surveyor Reid Siarot of the Department of Accounting and General Service's Land Survey Division was called to the stand by Wynhoff and explained that the Kingdom of Hawaii created a survey office in the 1870s to account for all of its lands due to demand from the public to purchase them.
The ahupuaa of Kalialinui that borders Makawao was documented as early as 1869. It was labeled in a map presented to the court and verified by Siarot. An 1872 map depicted the same border as well as a "Road to Haleakala" that rises out of Makawao and into the Kalialinui area.
Other maps presented to the court spanned from 1877 to 1930 and show the road - which saw its first government official labeling as Haleakala Trail in an 1885 map, running through Haleakala Crater but listed under several names and sometimes left unidentified. In a 1929 map, it was simply labeled "Trail."
Anthony Crook, a private surveyor hired by PATH, also gave testimony at the trial.
Judge Joseph Cardoza is presiding over the trial, which is scheduled to continue Monday.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com. Staff Writer Chris Sugidono contributed to this report.