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State starts charging user fees for nonresidents at popular Maui reserve

  • COURTESY DLNR

    COURTESY DLNR

Starting today, all nonresidents visiting the ‘Ahihi-Kina‘u Natural Area Reserve on Maui’s southwest coast will be charged a user fee of $5 per vehicle.

As part of a growing trend worldwide, the user fees will help pay for infrastructure costs, as well as projects to protect the area’s unique ecosystems and endangered species, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Ahihi-Kina‘u was established as Hawaii’s first Natural Area Reserve in 1973, and will now be the first reserve to ask visitors to share the costs of preserving it into the future, according to DLNR’s reserve spokesman Jeff Bagshaw.

“It’s the third most visited outdoor site on Maui by visitor and residents alike,” said Bagshaw, following Haleakala National Park and ‘Iao Valley State Monument.

Thousands of people visit the reserve to snorkel, swim, surf or take a short hike.

In 2018 to 2019, roughly 1,200 people a day visited the open portion of the reserve at Kanahena, DLNR said, with an additional 1,200 passing through on their way to Keone‘o‘io, or La Perouse Bay. Up to 900 people snorkel the reefs at Kanahena, and an average of 2,000 pass through its main parking lot daily.

“During one survey, we estimated about 50 honu (sea turtles) in Ahihi bay that day.” said Bagshaw in a news release. “Compare 50 sea turtles to our daily average of 600-900 people in reserve waters. That means one sea turtle could be exposed to about 12-18 people every day. That’s a lot of underwater traffic. We tell people, when the parking lot is full, the ocean is full.”

Although there are few tourists right now due to the pandemic, Bagshaw said getting it in place and running smoothly was important before their return in greater numbers.

The fees collected will go directly to the Natural Area Reserve Special Fund to support much-needed services like portable toilet maintenance, trash collection, and potential restoration projects, such as replanting native dryland to reduce storm runoff onto coral reefs.

The fees are part of a management plan for the reserve developed years ago with input from a community advisory board, and signed by the governor in 2017. In addition to charging user fees, the plan limits the number of cars that can park at the reserve.

Charging user fees is a growing trend worldwide, said Bagshaw, and if this model works out, it might be considered for other natural area reserves as well.

Visitors will be able to pay for the user fees at the Kanahena parking lot using two machines, which accept credit or debit cards, and then display the receipts on their dashboard while using the area.

Parking on the road or shoulders of the reserve is prohibited, and any cars parked there or outside of marked stalls at the parking lot will be ticketed and towed at the owner’s expense.

Hawaii residents will not be charged, but must display a daily pass generated from the same machines.

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