Kalalau Trail restoration slowed by number of hikers
By Paul C. Curtis
The Garden Island
LIHUE — With an estimated 500,000 people hiking the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail every year, from Kee Beach to Hanakapiai, closing the trail for maintenance isn't really an option, a state parks official said.
But maintenance work needs to be done, and is being done, often on a start-and-stop basis to allow visitors and residents only semi-interrupted traverse.
Much like motorists who grow impatient when construction-related delays temporarily close or narrow Kauai's two major highways, hikers sometimes get irate over a 15-minute delay even when the goal is a safer, more-comfortable trail experience.
"We could close the trail but we don't want to," said Curt Cottrell, assistant administrator of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks.
Charlie Cobb-Adams, whose Native Hawaiian Conservation & Hiking Expeditions is subcontracted to do the trail-restoration work, pleads for patience on the part of the hiking public while he and crew try to get the job done by the November 2010 scheduled completion date.
Sometimes it takes a lot of time and effort to remove boulders that weigh several hundred pounds when they have slid onto the trail, said Cobb-Adams, who has permits to cut trees, move dirt and stone and remove water from the trail.
"For the most part the people are cooperative. Some don't get it," Cobb-Adams said.
His survey research indicates most of the people coming to construction zones on the trail haven't read a prominent sign posted at the trail head indicating there might be delays while trail-restoration work continues, he said.
Other than the demanding physical labor that includes day-on, day-off scheduling to allow workers' bodies (including his own) to recover from the 12-hour sessions, he said the toughest part of the work is access, because he isn't able to use animals or vehicles to bring workers and equipment onto the trail.
That means workers haul between 50 and 96 pounds of gear with them when they hit the trail. This summer, they'll be able to access the trail via Hanakapiai Beach with inflatable boats.
"This is intense labor," and dangerous as well, Cobb-Adams said.
Yet he is driven by his family's history, as both his grandmother and great grandparents were born and raised in Kalalau Valley, and by the awesome beauty of his workplace that has hiker after hiker telling him they'd trade their office for his "office" any day.
Cottrell said the trail was designed in the 1800s for oxen and commerce, to haul coffee, livestock and other commodities out of Na Pali Coast valleys.
Historically, the trail was 4 feet wide, and now ranges from 12 inches to 15 feet wide, said Cottrell, though Cobb-Adams said portions of the trail are just 6 inches wide and very dangerous.
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