The reopening of a 2-mile stretch of Kauai’s Kuhio Highway on Monday likely will come without major protests, and instead see the rollout of the Aloha Pledge and what many hope is a new era of collaboration in managing tourism and its impacts on the Garden Isle.
In the wake of flooding that devastated parts of the island, the highway has been closed to nonlocal traffic for more than a year.
Popular tourist attractions such as the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, Ha‘ena State Park, Kee Beach, Kalalau Trail, Haena Beach Park and Limahuli Garden & Preserve also have been shuttered since an April 14-15, 2018, storm produced approximately 50 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. The closure of a portion of Kuhio Highway for cleanup and repairs cut off the island’s north shore communities beyond Waikoko, including Lumahai, Wainiha and Haena.
The original May 1 reopening of the highway was poised to play out in a scene reminiscent of protests against the Hawaii Superferry in 2007, when, fearful of the impacts from an influx of passengers and more visitors, a blend of Native Hawaiians, hippie transplants and conservationists formed a human blockade that kept the ferry from docking at Nawiliwili Harbor.
But the state’s decision to delay the Kuhio Highway reopening to May 20, then June 13 and now June 17 gave cooler heads a chance to prevail.
“There was going to be a huge protest. We still have $3,000 worth of T-shirts to show for it,” said Scott Farese, part of a North Shore Kauai community group called the Old Hanalei Courthouse Hui. “But the pushbacks gave everyone a chance to breathe.”
Although, there was a small protest June 4 in Haena during a private community blessing that came in advance of Gov. David Ige’s June 6 visit to the region.
While some might still choose to protest on Monday, the wider community is rallying behind a grassroots effort to educate tourists to mitigate the impact from their return, said Megan Wong, who is part of the Old Hanalei Courthouse Hui.
Road rules for a smooth recoveryThe Aloha Pledge website provides some road tips for those traveling the road from Hanalei to Haena. Here are some highlights:
>> Don’t drive; take the shuttle.
>> Research the weather, and don’t drive the road during heavy rain or high winds.
>> Each side takes turns on the one-lane bridges. Follow the flow of traffic in groups of five to seven cars over bridges.
>> Use caution when driving over stream crossings.
>> Plan accordingly for limited parking. There are only 100 stalls at Ha‘ena State Park (advance reservation required) and only 40 stalls at Maniniholo County Park. Illegal parkers face $200 fines.
>> Pull over to allow veteran commuters to pass.
>> Show sensitivity to Kauai’s fragile natural and cultural resources.
Called the Aloha Pledge, alohapledge.com, the effort is based on the Palau Pledge, which is stamped into the passports of tourists who visit the tiny Micronesian nation. Palau, population 20,000, adopted the effort in 2017 to prevent the isle from being overrun by the 160,000 or so tourists who visited each year.
The combined population of Kauai’s isolated north shore communities was only 749 in the 2010 census. Last year nearly 1.38 million tourists visited Kauai — up about 8% from 2017. The number of tourists visiting Ha‘ena State Park is an estimated 730,000 or more annually.
The Aloha Pledge is seen as an opportunity to empower residents and visitors to assume joint responsibility for Kauai’s well-being.
Paulina Barsotti, a small-business owner from Princeville, is among those driving the Aloha Pledge movement, which she describes as an offshoot of a discussion with a University of Hawaii student who shared the work that his aunt had done to establish the Palau Pledge. Barsotti created the Aloha Pledge website and is now working with other volunteers to develop an informational campaign — which she hopes will address community fears about over-tourism and develop proactive solutions rather than protest-centered responses.
“This is about going with the facts versus the fear and working with our community to make the change rather than yelling about it,” Barsotti said. “We are excited about trying this approach in our community, and we hope it will serve as a model for communities throughout the state that are feeling the strain of over-tourism. This is about being pono together.”
Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, said the agency will assist with distribution of the Aloha Pledge, which she envisions will have ramifications beyond just Kauai’s north shore.
“I feel like this is the start of a new era to better manage tourism. Having to restart tourism in that community lets us go back and fix the things that were challenges so that we are all moving forward for the place and for the people,” Kanoho said.
Chris Tatum, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said the state agency supports the continued investment into the community, into the Hawaiian culture and into the island’s natural resources.
Take the pledge, show your alohaThe Aloha Pledge website asks visitors to agree to make responsible travel choices, including:
>> Stay only in legal lodging.
>> Take shuttles.
>> Observe road rules.
>> Buy local.
>> Use reef safe sun and bug repellent.
>> Give fish and wildlife space.
>> Respect fishermen.
>> Learn about Hawaiian culture.
>> Only visit public spaces.
>> Clean up after yourself.
>> Remember, “I am a guest here and others are not on vacation.”
“I like the idea behind the Aloha Pledge and how it aims to educate Kauai’s visitors. Providing them with information about Hawaii’s history and the importance of respecting the culture results in a more meaningful experience,” Tatum said.
Tourism management was also top of mind for Ige, who hiked a portion of the Kalalau Trail during his June 6 visit in advance of Kuhio Highway’s reopening and the reopening of Ha‘ena State Park, one of the state’s most popular tourism stops.
“As I’ve traveled around the state, I’ve heard more and more about how much is too much,” Ige said. “I think everybody acknowledges that the visitor industry is our No. 1 industry. Everybody wants to support that, but the question is how much is too much.
“We are seeing impacts in traffic — we’re seeing traffic in areas that we’ve never seen before, and then obviously when you see these kinds of trails and Ha‘ena State Park, where everyone wants to visit it — but clearly, too many people is just not a good experience for visitors or residents alike,” the governor said.
Barsotti said she hopes that the Aloha Pledge eventually could be attached to the state agricultural declaration forms that every visitor fills out upon arriving in Hawaii.
“We think Kauai’s debut of the Aloha Pledge together with other tourism management plans could serve as a model to assist communities across the state who are suffering from over-tourism,” she said.
Barsotti said the rollout of the Aloha Pledge coincides with several new Kauai tourism management tools and policies.
The Ha‘ena State Master Plan, which takes effect Monday, will reduce daily visitation to Haena from an estimated 3,000 people to 900. It also includes a new reservation system for park entrance, a shuttle to reduce the number of vehicles traveling into the park, higher fines for illegal parking, tougher enforcement and a new parking lot, which limits parking to 70 spaces for visitors and 30 for residents.
Also debuting is the Hanalei Initiative’s new shuttle service, www.hanaleiinitiative.org/the-shuttle, which is designed to take cars off the road, allowing visitors and residents a less congested Haena experience. The shuttle will begin taking reservations Monday for travel starting Friday. Round-trip reservations to Kee Beach will sell for $11 and include a Ha‘ena State Park reservation. Hop-on, hop-off service also is available. Both trips will offer onboard recordings from cultural practitioners.
“With only about 75 parking spots for parkgoers, we estimate only 350-400 people being allowed to arrive by car each day. With 500-550 people unable to bring their own transportation, this leaves a huge demand for shuttle service,” said Joel Guy, Hanalei-to-Ha‘ena Community Association president.
The new start also aligns with the reopening of Haena Beach Park, the region’s public restrooms and Limahuli Garden & Preserve, which will launch new visitation rules when it reopens Tuesday.
Chipper Wichman, president of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, said the changes mean that visitors to Limahuli Garden & Preserve who are not Hawaii residents will need to reserve a parking stall if they plan to go on a self-guided tour unless they come via foot, bike or shuttle.
“We’re only going to be accepting reservations for 100 parking spots per day,” Wichman said. “The changes here and at other places in the community are to ensure that our visitors have the best experience possible and that our resources are protected. We are trying to maintain the beauty of our garden while we balance sharing it with our visitors and maintaining our serious conservation mission.”
It’s hoped combined efforts will improve the quality of life on Kauai’s north shore for threatened plants and marine species such as humpback whales and monk seals — and for local people, who are vastly outnumbered by tourists, Wong said.
“There’s no way to stop people from coming here, and that’s not something that we would want to do anyway,” she said. “Instead of chastising tourists, we want to educate them. If you know better, you do better.”