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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 1, 2001

Nude sunbathing in jeopardy at Makena's 'Little Beach'

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

MAKENA, Maui — Makena's Little Beach has a big reputation as a place where you can take off your clothes and bare it all to the sun and sea.

"Little Beach" at Makena has an international reputation as a "clothing-optional" area where nudity is tolerated, but a state-appointed committee to create a master plan for the area may change that designation.

Timothy Hurley • The Honolulu Advertiser

But a state-appointed citizens committee convened to help create a master plan for Makena State Park has been talking about placing some restrictions on nude sunbathing.

"It's alienating Native Hawaiians and others from using the beach,'' said task force member Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., a Native Hawaiian cultural specialist. "Something has got to be done to make it more fair.''

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources will hold a "visioning session'' Nov. 7 to gather public input on the future of Makena State Park. The 6:30 p.m. meeting will be at Maui Waena Intermediate School in Kahului.

The park is a 165-acre "scenic wildland beach park'' that attracts up to 1,000 visitors a day, according to the state. It is home to one of Maui's largest cinder cones — Pu'u Ola'i — and the island's largest white-sand beach, commonly known as Big Beach or Makena Beach.

Also in the park is Pu'u Ola'i Beach, commonly known as Little Beach or Small Beach — a hidden sandy shoreline, about 100 yards long, carved into the side of Pu'u Ola'i cinder cone and separated from Big Beach by a rocky bluff.

The state, which is moving ahead with plans to build bathrooms and a caretaker's cottage that will house a DLNR enforcement officer, created the citizens' task force a couple of months ago to make recommendations for updating the park's master plan.

The committee has met a few times and discussed opening the park up for more recreational use — including camping — while protecting the area's wetland habitat and archaeological sites.

But perhaps the most controversial topic has been what to do with the nude sunbathers at Little Beach.

Nude sunbathing is illegal at state parks, but enforcement has been slowed in recent years by court rulings. Authorities haven't cited nude sunbathers at Little Beach with any regularity since the 1980s.

Maxwell and others on the committee are pushing for "a compromise'' that will allow a continuation of nude sunbathing but only at certain times, perhaps during some hours of the day or on certain days of the week.

Maxwell said many people, particularly Native Hawaiians, are offended by those who show themselves off in public and many have given up visiting Little Beach.

"A lot of people won't go there because they're embarrassed or uncomfortable,'' agreed Mary Evanson, another task force member.

"If it continues the way it is, it's not fair,'' Maxwell said.

But those who use the beach for nude sunbathing aren't buying the argument.

"This is just silly. It doesn't make any sense,'' said Dick Hyers, a board member of the Friends of Little Beach.

Hyers said lots of clothed sunbathers use Little Beach every day, and many more beaches are available to those who may be offended — a group, he says, that surely isn't that large.

Tom Collins, the mayor of Little Beach as elected by the Friends of Little Beach, said there hasn't been a complaint in years.

"I'm kind of surprised. We haven't been raided since '88,'' he said.

Hyers said the Friends of Little Beach has 250 members — half of whom who live off-island — who would be prepared to defend their right to use the beach in the nude. The beach has a worldwide reputation, he said, and is annually ranked among the best nude beaches in the world.

Maui resident George Harker, a former Western Illinois University professor and now a nude-recreation consultant who calls himself "Dr. Leisure,'' said Little Beach is extraordinarily important to Maui's tourism.

He said he examined the closing of the Big Island's Honokohau Beach to nude use in 1999 and figured the annual loss to the economy in the millions.

"I think the enlightened view would be to acknowledge and recognize nude sunbathing,'' Harker said.

Phil Ohta, state Parks Division chief on Maui, said the issue of nude sunbathing eventually will have to be dealt with, given that the park is likely to be opened up for greater use.

Before restrictions are contemplated, he said, the state attorney general will have to address the legal issues.

Maxwell, a former Maui Police Department vice officer who used to arrest people at Little Beach for indecent exposure in the late '60s, acknowledges it will be a challenge — maybe even impossible — to enforce a ban on nude sunbathing.

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