The sunrise is still spectacular from the 10,000-foot summit at Haleakala National Park, but far fewer people are taking in the view, as COVID-19 maintains its stranglehold on tourism.
Park attendance plunged 97% in June from the same month last year and was down 61% over the first half of 2020, according to National Park Service statistics.
After a busy January and February, Haleakala saw less than half the usual number of visitors in March as the pandemic took hold, and was shut down entirely in April and May. After reopening on a limited basis in June, the park welcomed only 2,376 visitors compared to 85,338 in June 2019.
Statistics for July and August are not yet available, but park officials estimate that about 150 cars, equating to roughly 375 people, have been coming to Haleakala daily.
The park resumed reservations for sunrise viewing but is allowing only a third of the usual limit of 150 cars per day to accommodate physical distancing, according to Jin Prugsawan, chief of interpretation, education and volunteers.
Even with the reduced number “there are days when permits are still available,” she said. “People have been able to spread out at the four different lookouts and it hasn’t been an issue.”
With out-of-state visitors subject to Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, Maui saw only 2,585 arrivals in July compared to nearly 308,000 in the same month a year ago. Prugsawan said it appears Maui residents are taking advantage of the lull to visit Haleakala, which was also drawing residents from other islands until Gov. David Ige reinstated an interisland travel quarantine effective Aug. 11.
“It’s been really nice to see a lot of people from Maui in the park. I know it’s been a nice interaction for our staff and the people in the community,” she said.
With park operations and staff activities limited in the early months of the pandemic, feral-animal control efforts were cut back, allowing cats, mongoose, pigs and goats to threaten the fragile and distinct environments of the national park’s Summit and Kipahulu districts, according to Prugsawan.
“We have seen an increase in some of these animals, and we now have people going back in and doing predator control,” she said. “Right now it’s uau (Hawaiian petrel) nesting season, so the chicks are in the burrows and we’ve been monitoring them.”
Crews also have been fixing fence lines in Kipahulu Valley to keep pigs out, she said, and the lack of visitors in the Kipahulu District has allowed workers to get in there and clear the trails without interruption.
One major downside to the downturn in visitors is the loss of park entrance fees, 80% of which stays at Haleakala. Entrance fees are $30 per private vehicle and higher for commercial vehicles.
Prugsawan said the federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and park officials are awaiting possible funding cuts in the new budget year.
The Upcountry region also is taking a hit. In 2019, the 994,400 park visitors spent an estimated $64.7 million in surrounding communities while visiting Haleakala, according to NPS.
Meanwhile, the park has been increasing public access in phases, with the latest reopening allowing hikers on the first 2.5-mile section of the Keoneheehee (Sliding Sands) Trail starting today.
The steep, rocky trail, which drops 1,300 feet in elevation, is now open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays through Sundays only, but also this Labor Day Monday. Hikers planning to trek the entire 5-mile round trip are advised to hit the trail no later than noon to make it out by the 3 p.m. closing.
Also this weekend only, the Haleakala park store is providing curbside pick-up of purchases, available from 7 a.m. to 1:45 p.m Friday through Monday at the Headquarters Visitor Center parking lot at the 7,000-foot elevation. The visitor center itself is closed.
The park store, operated by the nonprofit Hawai‘i Pacific Parks Association, sells books, games, posters and other items, with a 15% kamaaina discount this weekend. Orders can be placed via the online store and sent to any address, with free shipping on purchases of $75. Those visiting in person can see the merchandise displayed in the visitor center window and call 895-4032 for curbside pick-up while in the park.
Others parts of Haleakala National Park remain closed, including the Halemauu and Kaupo trails, and backcountry cabins and tent campgrounds. Although the Hosmer Grove picnic shelter is open for day use, its campground is closed.
Open trails in the Summit District are Hosmer Grove Trail, Supply Trail from Hosmer Grove to Halemauu Trail junction, Leleiwi Overlook Trail and Pa Kaoao (White Hill) Trail.
The park’s Summit District opens at 7 a.m. daily and closes at 5 p.m. to prevent crowding at sunset viewpoints. Officials said further access will be based on the trend in COVID-19 cases on Maui, which have remained relatively low.
The park’s remote Kipahulu District in East Maui is open weekdays only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Open trails there include Pipiwai and Kuloa. However, the famed Pools of ‘Ohe‘o remain closed to visitors, as does the Kipahulu campground.
For those who can’t visit in person, virtual park experiences include a tour of the Haleakala Visitor Center and exhibits, an online Junior Ranger Program, thea 12-1/2-minute park orientation film “Haleakala: A Sacred Landscape,” and the 4-1/2-minute film “Koa Talking to Me,” featuring Maui woodcarver Calisto “Junior” Palos, that premiered Aug. 18 and can be seen on YouTube and the park website.
Lesson plans on Haleakala National Park for kids studying at home are available, and Prugsawan said fully digital versions will be ready in the next month or two.
For current conditions at Haleakala National Park, check the park’s website, nps.gov/hale, and social media channels.
HALEAKALA NATIONAL PARK VISITS
Recreation visits to Maui’s national park in the first six months of the year are down 61% compared to the same period in 2019.
2019 / 2020
January 53,523 77,500
February 83,666 70,000
March 93,074 35,688
April 87,763 0
May 85,159 0
June 85,338 2,376
Total 488,523 185,564
Source: National Park Service
>> Sunrise reservations allow access to Haleakala National Park’s Summit District from 3 to 7 a.m. for $1 per vehicle in addition to park entrance fees.
>> Reservations, available only at recreation.gov up to seven days in advance, are required for park entry.
>> No reservations will be accepted at the entrance.
>> For information, call 877-444-6777.