An enforcement officer with the Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) said on a recent Sunday that a permanent closure of Makena State Park's Little Beach has been discussed at the state level. Should the closure occur, it would be due to infractions associated with a weekly event held there, the officer said.
"The state's had enough," the officer said of the sunset drumming circles that occur each Sunday afternoon and evening at Little Beach.
The locale is best known as one of the few state beaches where a clothing-optional attitude is tolerated.
Firebreather Ruben Lopez Jr. of Kīhei, a gear washer at Snorkel Bob’s, performs at a gathering at Mākena State Park’s Little Beach, the locale of sunset drumming circles that occur each Sunday afternoon and evening. Although the state Department of Land and Natural Resources doesn’t mind the drum circles, an enforcement officer said the department does take issue with a range of legal infractions associated with the event.
Photo: Ben Madden
Though he declined to release his name for this article, the officer discussed at length the department's concerns regarding the Sunday events and its intent to close the beach by fencing it off.
Although the DLNR doesn't mind the drum circles, he said, the department does take issue with a range of legal infractions associated with the event. Those witnessed by a reporter include large-scale littering, underage drinking, marijuana smoking and the consumption of desserts laced with marijuana and hashish, a potent marijuana derivative.
The combination of increased crowds and increasingly rowdy participants has stressed the state department beyond its limits, said the officer, so that simply fencing-off Little Beach has emerged as the most practical form of crowd control.
"Look at us--there's three of us," said the officer of his force, which was escorting the last participants off the park grounds after clearing the beach on a recent Sunday. "We know they're smoking marijuana over there, but we don't have the manpower" to make arrests or issue citations on the scale required.
The Maui Weekly contacted DLNR for comment and received a written statement from its public information office:
"There is no plan to close or install fencing at Little Beach." Rather, the statement said, the department will continue to issue citations for criminal offenses that occur within its jurisdiction.
The department's DOCARE officers, as they are officially known, may not have to look far.
A reporter arrived at Big Beach and made it only a matter of steps along the Little Beach trail before being offered marijuana by a man with chest-length gray hair.
"I've got some really great pot, if you're into that," he said from his position in the center of the path.
On Little Beach just minutes later, a grandmotherly woman with a large circular cookie tin approached. "Care for some marijuana cookies?" she asked. "They're just delicious."
The weekly drumming, held each Sunday on Little Beach for a number of years, has grown to include upwards of 500 participants, from parents with newborns to the elderly. The only commonality is an ability to traverse the steep and crumbling cliff trail leading from Makena State Park's Big Beach parking lot.
"For some people, this is like church," said participant Shawn Hallan. "Some people have been coming here for 40 or 50 years."
Participants often depart the site by the hundreds immediately after sunset. In the dark, the steep pass back to Big Beach routinely becomes bottlenecked as babies, pets, the physically challenged and the chemically impaired are guided or lowered though the pass. Only a small percentage of the attendees depart with headlamps or flashlights, and many just flick their cigarette lighters to light their way.
As a bulk of the crowd departs, the drumming dies down, replaced with fire dancing.
One fire-breathing performer, Ruben Lopez Jr., said losing the Sunday beach events would make his performing impossible. "Where are we going to practice with fire if not here?" he said recently during a break between demonstrations. "There aren't places on Maui where you can do this."
If officers resort to heightened enforcement of the event, perhaps the greatest number of citations would be issued for late departure.
"Violation of the park closure rules is a criminal offense which is classified as a petty misdemeanor, which can be punishable of a fine up to $500 and/or up to 30 days in jail," the DLNR statement concluded.
According to www.hawaiistateparks.org, Makena State Park's hours of operation are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
The talk regarding closure of Little Beach may likely have been merely bluster. If it wasn't, however, one sunbather offered a prediction: "That won't stop anything; people will just come anyway."