Despite the impassioned pleas of families of Native Hawaiians buried at Polihale on Kauai for the public to be respectful and follow laws designed to protect natural and cultural resources, acts of vandalism and illegal behavior continue at the state park — and could lead to future park closures, according to state officials.
At Polihale this week, a witness reported a couple living in the park for the past three weeks even though camping permits were suspended and the park was closed for more than five months last year due to large beach gatherings. In addition, someone dug a large hole in the sand dunes near the day-use comfort station and three pavilions.
“While there is no obvious purpose for this large unauthorized excavation, Polihale possesses extensive subsurface cultural resources, including burials,” said archaeologist Alan Carpenter, assistant administrator of the Division of State Parks, in a news release. “Significant archaeological sites at Polihale have been destroyed by this type of activity in the past, and protecting them is among the paramount reasons we are insisting on better behavior.”
The damage wasn’t limited to Polihale: At the Makua Water Pump Station on Oahu’s Leeward Coast, vandals recently cut through protective fencing, and late last month, fencing was cut at Makena State Park on Maui, with materials thrown in the ocean, according to state parks officials.
The Makena fence was erected to prevent large beach parties at Puu Olai, also known as Little Beach, due to COVID-19 concerns. Officials said the fencing was put back up and the State Parks Division is exploring new hours and access rules to reopen Puu Olai at some point.
“We simply don’t have the law enforcement resources nor the maintenance capacity to provide round-the-clock coverage at Hawaii’s 52 state parks,” said Division of State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell in the release. “These should be the gems of Hawaii, where local residents can enjoy their features without being threatened with bad behaviors and where visitors go home and rave about the beauty, cleanliness, and respectful people in our parks. These are not anyone’s personal playgrounds.”
Park users are asked to report suspected illegal activities as quickly as possible, with supporting photographs or video to help track down violators. People may call the Department of Land and Natural Resources tip line at 643-DLNR (3678) or download the free DLNRTip app.
“We don’t want to close parks, but if this litany of violations continues, we may have no choice,” Cottrell said. “Please, if you are one of the people who is acting unlawfully or behaving badly anywhere on public lands in Hawaii, ask yourself, would you want this happening in your backyard?”