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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 23, 2001

Opposition shelves plan for national park on Moloka'i

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

With towering sea cliffs and unspoiled forests teeming with archaeological and ecological treasures, Moloka'i's northeast coast and Halawa Valley possess the kind of extraordinary landscapes one might find in a national park.

That's what a National Park Service study found last year, recommending federally protected status for more than 24,000 acres.

But this national park isn't going to happen. Not now, anyway.

Parks officials said community opposition makes it highly unlikely a new park will be established on the island anytime soon. Parks officials also said they're going to tell residents the same thing at 8 a.m. Saturday in a meeting at the Mitchell Pauole Center in Kaunakakai.

Also on hand will be U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, who introduced a bill in Congress in 1997 authorizing the study. Mink said she's traveling to Moloka'i to reassure residents she won't push for the creation of the park.

"I agree with the parks service that there's a lot of local objection, and we have to back off,'' Mink said.

The study examined five areas across Hawai'i and recommended national park designation for only Moloka'i's north shore cliffs area and Halawa Valley. It found cultural and natural resources of national significance in both areas.

The study could not recommend national park status for Maui's undeveloped North Beach, just north of Ka'anapali; the ridge of Lana'i's tallest mountain, Lana'ihale; and Kaua'i's northern shoreline area from 'Anini Beach to Makua Tunnels.

The spectacular north shore cliffs, rising more than 3,000 feet, were recommended as an extension of Kalaupapa National Historical Park. According to the report, the northern valleys of Pelekunu and Wailau are likely to be of major ecological and cultural significance, with resources worthy of protection.

Halawa Valley was recommended for its own national historical park. The archaeology of the valley represents the longest period of continuous Hawaiian cultural development — some 1,350 years — and its ancient sites and features as a community are the most complete known representation of the facets of prehistoric Hawaiian culture, according to the study.

But while these two areas meet most of the tests for the National Park System, they did fall short in one key area — public support.

Gary Barbano, a National Park Service planner, said that during informal meetings with residents, including valley landowners and tenants, many expressed a preference for local control. Outside management, he said, was perceived as a threat to traditional land uses and the rights of Native Hawaiians.

Community activist Walter Ritte Jr. said many feel threatened and worried a national park would mean the end of hunting and camping in these areas.

"This place is precious to us. It is our summer home. We can protect our own valley,'' he said.

Ritte said there's also fear that Moloka'i would become Yellowstone National Park and be overrun with tourists.

"All it means is that everyone and his brother will be coming over here and screwing up our resources,'' he said.

Barbano said a national park wasn't rejected by everybody. Some recognized that a national park would mean more jobs for local people and would not necessarily interfere with traditional uses.

But, he said, some have legitimate concerns. For example, he said, pig hunting probably would stop because the park service is mandated to protect the natural biota. Pigs are an enemy of the natural environment and would likely have to be eliminated.

Mink said she doesn't have any regrets about the study. She said there may be a time, when perhaps the region is threatened by development and the proposal can be easily resurrected.

"There was violent opposition to Kalaupapa (National Historical Park). Everyone thought I was out of my mind (to propose a park),'' she said. But years of negotiations and compromise led to designation in 1980.

Reach Tim Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.