Isles' No. 1 park: Volcanoes
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
By Christie Wilson
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, the USS Arizona Memorial and Haleakala National Park remain the top three tourist attractions in Hawai'i, despite small declines in attendance last year.
With the long-running Kilauea eruption and its other natural wonders, Hawai'i Volcanoes park was the top-drawing National Park Service location in the state, with 1.61 million visitors last year — exceeding the number of visitor arrivals for the Big Island as a whole.
The park ranked 46th in attendance among 359 park service units nationwide.
The USS Arizona had 1.54 million visitors and was ranked 48th nationally, and Haleakala ranked 50th with 1.43 million.
By comparison, the Polynesian Cultural Center in La'ie attracted 800,487 customers in 2005, according to state economic data.
Hawai'i Volcanoes Superintendent Cindy Orlando said the statistics reported by the National Park Service represent a calculation based on vehicles counted at the park entrance, and do not provide a complete picture of the actual number of people who visit. At the Big Island park, many people come at night, when the entrance gate is unstaffed, to view the lava flows.
Orlando estimates the park received an additional 1.7 million uncounted visitors in 2006.
"I was there last night for an hour, and they were still coming in," she said Friday. "There were at least 600 people there at 4 p.m."
Haleakala Superintendent Marilyn Parris said attendance at the 29,110-acre Maui park was affected by the seven-week closure of its Kipahulu District due to damage to nearby roads and bridges caused by the Oct. 15 earthquakes. The district, which includes the Pools of 'Ohe'o, attracts several thousand visitors a day.
At the Summit District, plans are being made for a major revamping of Park Headquarters at the 7,000-foot elevation and for improvements to the two small visitor centers at the 10,000-foot peak.
All three buildings are outdated, Parris said, and don't offer visitors much in the way of exhibits or restrooms.
"Our goal right now is to invest in visitor services and facilities," Parris said.
Haleakala officials also have been struggling with managing the commercial activities, such as downhill bicycle tours and tour buses, that can overwhelm the park during certain hours. Nearly 60 percent of visitors to Haleakala arrive there in tour vans and buses.
That can be a good thing because it reduces the numbers of vehicles driving up the winding road to the crater, but "the system is out of control," Parris said.
Park officials are developing a commercial services plan to determine what kinds of activities are appropriate for Haleakala and how to partner with tour businesses while maintaining the park's natural and cultural resources and the quality of the visitor experience, she said. The plan should be ready for public meetings this summer, Parris said.
Bigger and better facilities also are a priority at the USS Arizona Memorial, which is planning a new $52 million visitor center that would be completed by Dec. 7, 2009, the 68th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Superintendent Douglas Lentz said he doesn't foresee interest in the World War II memorial declining in the years to come, even as the generation that fought in that war quickly dwindles and newer generations are less familiar with that era of American history.
"It's the only attack site in the United States," he said.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park completed renovation of its Kilauea Visitor Center two years ago. Orlando said future development includes a cultural center to replace the one destroyed by the Kalapana lava flow and an enhanced trail system.
Hawai'i Volcanoes had its best year in 1983, when Kilauea reawakened and began spewing lava in January. The eruption, which continues today, attracted 2.25 million visitors.
Haleakala had its best attendance in 1999, with 1.96 million visitors. For the USS Arizona Memorial, 2004 saw record attendance of 1.57 million.
3 MORE PARKS
The National Park Service has three other smaller units on the island of Hawai'i. The Big Island also has the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, for which visitor numbers are not provided.
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, which contains the remnants of an ancient Hawaiian coastal village and fishponds, saw the highest percentage increase in visitors last year, at nearly 31 percent.
Superintendent Geri Bell said a public-awareness campaign, cultural festivals and other events, and increased visits by cruise ship passengers on day trips pushed attendance upward.
Reach Christie Wilson at email@example.com.
Correction: The ranking of the top three visitor attractions named in this story Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, the USS Arizona Memorial and Haleakala National Park is based on official counts. Visitors to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl are not counted, but officials there estimate annual attendance at 5.5 million, which is greater than the other three.