As a former member of the State House of Representatives representing South Maui, I strongly believe in the people's power to create political change. One issue that needs people power is saving Haleakala Trail, which the Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is currently considering giving up to the Haleakala Ranch Company (HRC).
Maui citizens must respond now and send a strong message to the DLNR and to their state legislators that Haleakala Trail is a cultural and historical treasure that must be protected by the state and reopened to the general public.
Even if you're not a hiker, you should be deeply concerned about this issue.
Haleakala Trail is public land, and the DLNR has an obligation to protect public lands for the benefit of current and future generations. So what does it mean for the DLNR to so willingly be ready to give away public land and deny public access? Consider this parallel: today, Hawai'i residents take for granted the right of having incredible public access to their beaches. However, most people in other parts of the U.S., where private landowners were successful in denying beach access, do not share this right. When people become complacent, they are apt to lose their rights to private interests. Public access is no small deal and is definitely worth fighting for, whether it's public access to trails or to beaches.
The Haleakala Trail issue shows that Maui citizens cannot assume the state will protect their access rights or preserve important public lands. Even though I, and other plaintiffs, including nonprofit Public Access Trails Hawai'i, were successful in pushing the state to sue HRC to confirm state ownership of the Haleakala Trail, public access is not guaranteed, because the state did not agree as to what it would do with the trail once it confirmed its ownership. HRC is now exploiting this fact by, behind the scenes, attempting to negotiate a deal with the DLNR, which would give away this culturally and historically significant trail in exchange for a jeep road somewhere on the leeward side of Haleakala.
The DLNR is apparently very interested in this land exchange, even though it would mean a loss of a significant cultural, historical and recreational treasure (for the full story on the Haleakala Trail, see www.pathmaui.org).
The importance of preserving Haleakala Trail for the public cannot be underestimated. In addition to the obvious reasons to preserve and protect an ancient and historical trail for the generations to come, there are also other tangible benefits. For example, the 3.3 miles of the Haleakala Trail has the possibility of not being simply an old segment of trail. Instead, it can be connected to the existing network of trails in Haleakala National Park, thereby making the old Hawaiian overland route to Kaupo still possible in modern times.
As another example, Haleakala Trail could even receive federal recognition, with possibly additional financial support for the state and for Maui. This may be seen by looking at Hawai'i Island's Ala Kahakai trail program, which has plans to reconnect all the old coastal trails (alaloa). Even though this Hawai'i Island trail is not yet fully owned or built, it has already received federal recognition and already has been designated as a National Historic Trail. As a result of that recognition, federal funds are flowing to Hawai'i Island to restore the trail and provide staffing. Importantly, some of that money is being spent helping the local communities learn how to reconnect with each other through the traditional Hawaiian routes.
Tourism also remains very important to Maui and Hawai'i's economy. The Maui News reported last year that "Haleakala visitors during 2010 spent $75 million" on Maui, with much of that money being funneled to local, job creating and business owners.
In the past decade, tourists have shown their preference for cultural and historical experiences, as well as the opportunity to engage in healthy activities like hiking. This is highlighted by another story that ran in The Maui News recently reporting that "birding, hiking and picnicking" account for nearly 75 percent of $2 billion per year spent at or around wildlife refuges across the country.
These reports show that if the state disposes of Haleakala Trail, it is choosing to eliminate forever not merely a hiking opportunity for residents and tourists, but also choosing to give up a significant economic benefit.
People cannot assume that the state will protect public lands. This is seen all too clearly here, where a large landowner has so easily swayed the DLNR to consider an idea harmful to the public's interest. No matter the state's clear obligations to protect this important resource, if we don't speak out now, we must include ourselves in the blame if Haleakala Trail is given up by the state.
Show our children we care about preserving public lands for their future. Show them by reaching out to the DLNR and your state legislators today.
(Joe Bertram is a former representative of District 11 (South Maui) for the Hawai'i House of Representatives. He is also a long time trails and greenways advocate. He is a director of Public Access Trails Hawai'i, a 501(c)(3), and is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit against Haleakala Ranch Company and the State of Hawai'i regarding Haleakala Trail.)