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Friday, August 29, 2014         

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The unimaginable comes to our parks

By Cynthia Oi

POSTED:



Summer begins tomorrow.

That's what my DayMinder calendar says, and since I bought it from Fisher Hawaii -- Honolulu's official office supply store -- I trust it is correct.

If you go by mainland vacationing and barbecuing customs, however, summer started on Memorial Day. By schoolchildren's gauge, summer got going the day classes let out.

We in these islands verify the season through our own touchstones, like when termites begin forays into the twilight, creating clouds around street lights, leaving their translucent wings to float through the morning breezes.

We confirm summer by the appearance of mango and lychee on neighborhood trees, although that has become a less distinct sign as old residential homesteads with big yards give way to faux Mediterranean manors built lot-edge to lot-edge.

A larger influx of tourists marks summer, too, so it is befitting that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources just approved a plan to take a few more of their dollars by charging them to get in to some state parks.

While the state won't be collecting fees quite yet -- a bureaucracy of contracts and paperwork have to be sorted out first -- officials estimate the entry and parking tariffs will bring in about $2 million a year.

By law, the money will go into a special fund to be spent only for park repairs and maintenance. That said, everyone in Hawaii knows that special funds can easily lose specialness when the Legislature covets the cash.

The fees, depending on the park, are fixed at $1 for a person who wants in without use of a motor vehicle, $3 to $5 for a regular car regardless of the number of human contents, $12 to $20 for smaller tour buses with up to 25 passengers, and $24 to $40 for megabuses with more than 25 riders.

Local people won't have to pay because they already do through taxes, officials reason. More likely, officials know they will catch heck and verbal dirty lickin' if they tried to charge residents for the simple good fun of checking out the Pali on a windy day.

Most of the soon-to-be pay-to-play parks, such as Akaka Falls on Hawaii island and Iao Valley on Maui, are already dominated by the tourist trade, or, like Hapuna Beach, have become accessories to nearby luxury hotels. So you can argue that fees aren't a big deal, that it's the tourists who are paying, that the charges are minimal.

For all that, fees can discourage people from going places, even if they know they don't have to pay.

Just a few decades ago, no politician would entertain the idea of charging anyone to climb Diamond Head or spread out a beach mat at Hanauma Bay.

But when money is tight and as state leaders increasingly fail to recognize that parks are a priority for both visitors and locals, that our green spaces, hills and shorelines are invaluable, it's not unimaginable that some day there will be admission signs and gates across our land and natural resources.






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