Sand Island off-road track gets green light from state
• Photo gallery: Sandbox Hawaii
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
In August 2005, Reid Shimabukuro pledged to give it two years. Two years to stick with a plan he hatched to transform a 30-acre, state-owned parcel in Sand Island into an off-road recreation area — or abandon the idea as one before its time.
Only, Shimabukuro (and a crew of hard-core volunteers) didn't give up after two years.
He didn't give up after three. Or four.
So yesterday, some four years and four months after Shimabukuro's personal pledge, was a particularly satisfying day for the federal firefighter: The state Board of Land and Natural Resources voted to grant the nonprofit he helped found, Sand Island Off-Highway Vehicle Association, a permit to operate the off-road facility and start charging fees.
"It's been a learning experience," Shimabukuro said, of his journey to open the park, called Sandbox Hawaii. "I would never do it again," he added, with a laugh.
Once all the tracks at the park are open, the facility will be O'ahu's first legal off-road venue for four-wheelers, which is a term that includes anything from sport utility vehicles to monster trucks, and only the second for off-road motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.
The waterfront recreation park is the culmination of a first-of-its-kind partnership between off-roaders of all kinds and the state, which has recognized off-roading — from BMX biking to riding on all-terrain-vehicles — as a growing recreational activity.
LITTLE COST TO STATE
Though the project was plagued with delays, it cost the state little.
DLNR was able to secure a $30,000 federal grant to cover permitting and other approvals. The agency used its own employees to help off-roaders navigate the permitting process. And letting the off-roaders use the Sand Island property was seen as a win-win. The parcel was vacant, had no master plan and in the past had been plagued by illegal dumping.
Curt Cottrell, of DLNR, who has been helping with the Sand Island park as long as Shimabukuro, said it was difficult to get the project off the ground because it was so unique. The second time around could prove easier. "We've learned a lot about what you can and cannot do," he said.
And he said there are already discussions under way to open a similar facility on Maui.
The Sand Island park has not yet had a grand opening, and one is not yet on the calendar. But it opened up in October to BMX riders on Wednesdays and Sundays and remote-controlled car operators on Sundays only.
This month, volunteers hope to finish a track for mini-motocross. And in February, four-wheelers could be riding in the park.
Later, tracks for motocross and ATVs will open.
Shimabukuro said there are still a lot of details to hammer out, not least of which include how much to charge different users and how to get enough in revenues to start hiring employees so the park could be open for more than two days a week. He said since the facility is being run by a nonprofit, all fees go directly to park operations and upkeep.
Compared with similar facilities on the Mainland, the Sand Island park is small.
Shimabukuro estimates the capacity of the park at 100 users once all tracks are open. But he said it does have some definite advantages, including its prime location and accessibility.
And Shimabukuro and Cottrell said there is such high demand for an off-road facility that they're confident the park will be well-used.
Off-roaders also say the new facility will mean less wear and tear on the Kahuku Motocross park, which is full to capacity most weekends. The Sand Island project is also designed to curb illegal off-road driving, a longtime problem on remote beaches and other land.
Cottrell said Sand Island won't eliminate illegal off-road driving, but it could help reduce it.
He added that other off-roading enthusiasts on O'ahu or the Neighbor Islands are encouraged to come forward with ideas for other projects — if they have a solid plan and realize the state won't be able to pitch in much in the way of funding.
The permit approved unanimously yesterday by the Board of Land and Natural Resources is a month-to-month revocable permit. Kahuku Motocross, operating since the 1970s, has the same type of permit.