Sunday, March 4, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, March 4, 2001

Construction to limit Diamond Head access

Work crews plan to refurbish the path up Diamond Head while the park is closed.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Bureau

Advisories have been sent to tourism companies, hotels, limousine companies and visitor associations, all in the hope of letting them know that Oahu’s most prominent viewscape will be closed four days a week.

Diamond Head State Monument will be closed Mondays through Thursdays from March 19 to April 12, which likely will mean that some visitors won’t get to visit Diamond Head during their stay here. In recognition of the park’s role as a visitor attraction, the park will be open Fridays through Sundays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the construction period.

Crews need to shore up the footings of the fire control structure at the top of Diamond Head, used to identify and target potential enemy ships during World War II. While the park is closed, crews will work on the railings, paint the walls around the circular stairway and do general trail maintenance, said Dan Quinn, state Department of Land and Natural Resources acting parks administrator.

For many of Diamond Head’s 1.3 million annual visitors, trekking through the pitch-dark tunnel is a special thrill.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

"The footings that hold up the structure have eroded out around the area," Quinn said. "We have to fill in all over the area that is eroded. We’ll do as much heavy maintenance as possible."

The work is an effort to keep the trail safe. Thousands of feet pound upon the trail and wind whips away at the light soil, said Yara Lamadrid-Rose, Diamond Head State Monument park coordinator. The soil, a soft composite of ash and cinder, undermines the foundations leading up to the final summit lookout.

A step that started out at a standard depth is now higher than 2 feet, she said.

"The park is packed," Lamadrid-Rose said. "It’s not unsafe. But with hundreds of people crowded up there, and people hopping over the fence, then it becomes unsafe."

The size of the lookout and the access to it by way of the fire control station cannot be changed, but the state will try to make the space more useable by building up the stairs in two locations.

There have been few accidents in this portion of the summit, Lamadrid-Rose said. Most of the accidents occur on the cement portion of the trail, near the entrance.

Helicopters will tote the materials to the summit, which is more than 700 feet high at the highest elevation on the southwest rim. Prison laborers and staff will work on other maintenance projects.

It’s difficult to work on the park when it’s open 12 hours a day without inconveniencing visitors, Lamadrid-Rose said.

The last time work was done at the monument was in the mid-1980s when steps up to the final summit lookout were replaced, he said.

Although signs urge visitors not to stray from the trail, some have difficulty containing a desire to explore.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

The department initially had considered closing the park the entire time work was being done. More than 1.3 million visitors come to the crater every year, Quinn said, but not nearly as many climb up to the summit, which is more than a 1-mile hike round trip.

The state has sent out advisories to tourism companies, hotels, limousine companies and visitor associations, Lamadrid-Rose said. As the start of construction draws closer, park staff will pass out fliers to tour bus drivers.

The monument is to undergo further construction eventually when the state begins work on its vision for Diamond Head.

That vision includes changing the parking, adding a people mover, building a new trail system on the southeastern edge of the crater to Tunnel 407 and Battery Harlow, building new picnic areas near the visitor/interpretive center and opening up Kapahulu Tunnel. The price tag is more than $23 million, according to the draft environmental impact statement for the monument’s master plan.

The state is seeking about $6 million to build the first phase of that master plan from the Legislature this year, then construction could start within a year or two.

For the current three-week phase of construction, Tony Vericella, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau president said communication will keep tourists happy.

"Diamond Head is one of those very important assets," he said. "We’re concerned about it for preservation and maintenance. I think that it will be positive as long as the information gets out to the industry, to the hotels and the travel and tour operators because they’re the ones who are helping people develop their itineraries."

Oahu Visitors Association’s executive director Les Enderton said he didn’t think the closure would make visitors to Oahu angry, as many stay through a weekend or a Friday, days when the monument will be open.

"The change is for the greater good, for the long run," Enderton said. "It won’t have a decided effect on our visitor industry."

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