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Jury finds state owns historic trail on Maui ranch

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WAILUKU » A jury has found that a section of historic trail cutting across Maui’s largest family-owned cattle ranch belongs to the state.

The decision could clear the way for more public access on the 3.3-mile section of trail that crosses Haleakala Ranch.

The Maui News reports that after six weeks of hearings, jurors determined Wednesday that the government built the trail before the Great Mahele land division of 1848. That means the trail is considered a public highway under the Highways Act of 1892.

Public Access Trails Hawaii filed the lawsuit in 2011. This verdict will lead to a second trial phase to determine how much trail access the state gives the public.

Tom Pierce, an attorney for the nonprofit, said he hopes that phase begins in the next six months.

"Even though we’ve gotten to this stage, there (are) still questions as to whether we will get access," Pierce said. "We will remain in talks with the state about that."

Don Young, the president of the ranch, said in a statement that the ranch will consider appealing the decision.

"We believe all landowners in Hawaii should be concerned about the potential impact of this verdict and the risk of other claims arising from the Highways Act of 1892," he said.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources earlier this year proposed a land exchange with the ranch. The state offered title to the trail section in exchange for a new access route to the Kahikinui Forest Reserve and the Na Kula Natural Area Reserve. It wasn’t immediately clear what effect Wednesday’s verdict would have on those discussions.

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