Residents on Kauai work for free to fix road to Hawaii state park
By Diana Leone
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau
By Diana Leone
LIHU'E, Kaua'i — When the state has no money to fix a road to a popular park on Kaua'i, local residents don't just sit on their hands. They bring in the heavy equipment and do it themselves.
Volunteers are making major repairs to open an access road to West Kaua'i's premier state beach park, Polihale, which has been closed since December.
The state said in February it didn't have money to fix the road, which was washed out by heavy rains late last year.
So beginning March 23, a team of volunteers brought in a crane, steel bridge parts, welding equipment, a dump truck, excavators, a cement mixer and more to do the job — all at no charge. The volunteers are continuing the work this week and hope to have the road open by the end of the month.
"I think it's absolutely phenomenal," said Department of Land and Natural Resources director Laura H. Thielen. The volunteer effort is the largest single donation of time and equipment for state parks, Thielen said.
"It's really a whole community thing coming together," said Bruce Pleas, a West Kaua'i activist and surfboard maker who has been a coordinator for the project.
"This affects a lot of people directly or indirectly," Pleas said, including fishermen, surfers and even commercial kayak tour companies that operate in summer months. "Just getting it open is important to everyone on Kaua'i."
"I think it's great," said Ray Ishihara, a manager at Ishihara Market, who donated lunches for volunteers. "Everybody needs help these days, in this economy."
"It's been a community outpouring," added Ivan Slack, co-owner of Na Pali Kayak tours. "I can't recall a time when everybody stepped up and did something like this."
Na Pali Kayak tours pick up kayak rental customers at Polihale after they've paddled 16 miles along the Na Pali Coast from the North Shore during the summer. If the park doesn't reopen, the tours won't be possible, said Slack, whose company is donating to a maintenance fund for Polihale.
The value of the donated work "is going to be big money," said Stephen Thompson, state parks program manager. The volunteers, who include a number of current and former contractors, "have done a serious amount of work."
Just grading the road cost the state $90,000 the last time it was done, Thompson said.
Polihale is an example both of community gumption and the worsening condition of state parks.
Over the past 25 years, the state parks budget and its number of employees have both "been whittled away," director Dan Quinn said.
Twenty-five years ago, the division employed 165 people. Today it has 100.
The current operating budget for all state parks is $8.7 million. The proposed budget for next year is $7.5 million — a 14 percent cut from a budget that Quinn said has "no fat anywhere."
According to Thielen, if the Legislature doesn't approve her proposed $240 million infusion of capital improvement money — dubbed the "Recreation Renaissance" — at least five state parks will have to close, and others will continue their downhill slide.
The Renaissance package would include money for emergency repairs such as what's needed at Polihale, she said.
And despite the tremendous value of the volunteer effort, all the work at all state parks can't be done by volunteers, Thielen said.
Still, "I think this incident should send a very strong message to the Legislature that the people of Hawai'i value our parks," Thielen said.
The bill that would fund park fixes and pay for them with reimbursable bonds is Senate Bill 636. Thielen hopes to get up to $40 million of general obligation bonds to make improvements before some high-traffic parks start charging admission for nonresidents.
Entry fees proposed for a limited number of parks would be charged only to nonresidents, she added.
TEAM OF VOLUNTEERS
State officials had estimated repairs for Polihale at $4 million, including restoration of the remotest area of the park damaged by a rock slide. The volunteer work doesn't include that area, which will remain closed.
Dozens of Kaua'i residents complained about Polihale being closed at a Feb. 13 informational meeting about the Recreational Renaissance proposal. They then pledged to put their backs into the repairs.
Pleas, who is helping to coordinate the volunteers, said donors have included Troy Martin of Martin Steel, Myron Lyndsey Construction, Carol Nielson of Bacon Universal Equipment, Nick Prieto Construction, Greg Holzman, Ron Agor Architects, Keith Suga with Goodfellow Brothers Inc., retired Goodfellow foreman Val Badua, retired contractor Tim McKenna and Ryan Ell of Rylo Excavation.
In addition to the volunteers, state parks workers lead by supervisor David Tsuchiya have been contributing, Pleas said. Local restaurants are chipping in meals for the volunteers.
Two nonprofit organizations — Surfrider Foundation and E Ola Mau Na Leo O Kekaha — have set up funds to collect money to help maintain the access road, and thousands of dollars have already been donated, Pleas said.
Reach Diana Leone at email@example.com.