The state has asked a Maui circuit judge to dismiss a lawsuit trying to reopen a trail likely used by Mark Twain to reach the summit of Haleakala in 1866.
In court papers, Deputy Attorney General William Wynhoff said the nonprofit group Public Access Trails Hawaii lacks the authority to force the state to spend money to reopen Haleakala Trail.
The group wants the state and Haleakala Ranch to reopen the trail, a popular access route for hikers and horseback riders until the mid-1930s.
A hearing on the motion to dismiss is scheduled in Maui Circuit Court at 8:30 a.m. May 11.
The group, whose members include former state Rep. Joe Bertram III, said the federal Highways Act of 1892 protects the public’s rights to existing trails.
The group said both the Kingdom of Hawaii and Territory of Hawaii spent funds on maintaining and improving Haleakala Trail, used to gain access to a number of heiau, rock quarries and southeast Maui, according to the group’s lawsuit, filed Jan. 18.
The 3.3-mile trail is at the mauka end of Piiholo Road and crosses the boundary of the Kalialinui ahupuaa, owned by Haleakala Ranch, before continuing through land that is part of Haleakala National Park.
The lawsuit said the trail was most likely used by Mark Twain in 1866 on his visit to Haleakala Crater.
"We climbed a thousand feet up the side of this isolated colossus one afternoon; then camped, and next day climbed the remaining nine thousand feet, and anchored on the summit, where we built a fire and froze and roasted by turns, all night," Twain wrote in his book "Roughing It." "With the first pallor of dawn we got up and saw things that were new to us. … The sea was spread abroad on every hand, its tumbled surface seeming only wrinkled and dimpled in the distance. A broad valley below appeared like an ample checker-board, its velvety green sugar plantations alternating with dun squares of barrenness and groves of trees diminished to mossy tufts."
Closed at some point, the trail was "forgotten" for 80 years after Haleakala Road was opened in 1935 allowing motor vehicles access to the summit, the lawsuit said.
David H. Brown, a Waihee resident and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said interest has grown in recent years for hikers to use the trail as Maui becomes more densely populated.
"We believe in opening up public property for public use," he said.
The group alleges the state violated its public trust by failing to resolve a dispute with Haleakala Ranch about the use of the trail. The group wants the courts to assume jurisdiction over the trail and declare it is an ancient trail that provided traditional and customary access to people.
It also wants a permanent injunction against the ranch to halt it from asserting ownership of the trail.
Public Access Trails Hawaii also seeks compensatory damages from the ranch.
The ranch has declined comment.