The state is renewing its efforts to tackle a decades-long problem of accumulated trash and damage to heiau in Kauai’s Kalalau Valley — the result, for the most part, of illegal camping.
During four cleanup operations in January and early February, helicopters hired by the Division of State Parks and the Kauai Branch of the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement hauled out about 2,400 pounds of opala by sling-load.
Another 1,500 pounds of items left at makeshift campsites was removed and will be stored for 30 days, officials said. If unclaimed, the items will be disposed of.
The items include fishing poles, surfboards, full-size air mattresses, plastic lawn chairs, coolers and a bongo drum, according to a video shot by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees the two divisions.
Conservation enforcement officers also issued nearly 70 citations to campers who did not have proper permits.
Curt Cottrell, state parks administrator, said in an interview the blatant disregard of park rules in Kalalau Valley, part of the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, leaves Hawaii taxpayers footing the cleanup bill, so far this year about $13,000. That includes fees to dispose of rubbish and use of a private helicopter, which costs about $1,000 an hour.
The tally is expected to rise as officials book more chopper trips.
“Kalalau has developed this global reputation due to its amazing beauty and its remote location as kind of a mecca for wilderness backpacking people to go to,” said Cottrell.
But there’s a subculture of sorts that stays there for weeks and months, he said. During sweeps, he said, it’s difficult to track squatters because they scatter and hide deeper in the valley as soon as they hear rotor blades.
Valley live-ins call themselves “outlaws” and endeavor to live off the land, officials said.
The squatters have diverted streams to feed gardens where they grow taro, papaya, squash, herbs and other fruits and vegetables, said Francis “Bully” Mission, Kauai Branch chief with the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement.
The diversion of stream water in turn disrupts the reproductive cycle of the oopu, a native gobie, Mission said. Immature freshwater opihi shells or hihiwai have also been found on the ground throughout the valley.
“They’re impacting the resources on the shorelines and streams from mauka to makai,” Mission said of the illegal campers.
He said the most disturbing “live-in” activity is the damage they’re inflicting on cultural and historical sites. For example, they have removed rocks from heiau to create fire pits.
“They’re sunbathing in the nude and congregating on the heiau,” he added.
Sabra Kauka, president of the Na Pali Coast Ohana, a nonprofit organization that works with the state to preserve natural and cultural resources at Na Pali, said, “To me it’s disrespectful of the original culture, the ancient culture that built these places. You shouldn’t be camping in them. You shouldn’t be moving rocks around. You should respect them. They are places of great beauty.”
When the ohana formed in 1995, it focused on cleanup efforts in Kalalau. Kauka said during one summer she and dozens of volunteers removed up to 14 tons of rubbish.
In recent years the ohana has redirected its efforts to restore Nualolo Kai, an ancient fishing village, also part of the Na Pali Coast State Park. Last week, however, at the organization’s annual meeting, Kauka said the group agreed to return to Kalalau.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful place that should remain beautiful, and that means treating it with respect,” she said. “Pack out what you pack in. It’s really simple: You take it in, you take it out.”
The state Parks Division issues up to 60 camping permits for a designated campsite near Kalalau Beach, 11 miles away from the trailhead in Haena. The maximum stay for each permit is five days.
Composting toilets are in place to accommodate the campers, but the large number of illegal campers has overtaxed them, Mission said. During the recent cleanup operations, 17 barrels of waste — each 50 gallons — were pulled from the toilets and airlifted out of the valley.
The presence of squatters in the valley dates back to the late 1960s when a group of young people, mostly from the mainland, took up residence in Kalalau.
In 1974 the state Parks Division acquired the valley and evicted the transients. Kalalau was then folded into the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park.
But keeping out the live-ins has proved to be a chronic problem.
Mission said enforcement sweeps of Kalalau by foot put officers on rough terrain, atop steep cliffs and sometimes in thick vegetation.
“It’s not a walk in the park,” he said.
Cottrell said the Parks Division is using social media to inform the public of the cultural importance of Kalalau. Through awareness and sustained enforcement, the state hopes to reduce the illegal use, he said.
Hiking the first 2 miles to Hanakapai Valley from the trailhead does not require a permit. Beyond that a camping permit is required at a cost of $15 per person per night for Hawaii residents and $20 per person per night for nonresidents.