The mile-long white sands and turquoise waters of Keawaula/Yokohama Bay, the last big beach in Waianae before Kaena Point, are a perennial draw for nature watchers, fishers, gatherers, swimmers and surfers — but the entrance gates to its parking areas have been closed for more than a year.
Now the gates are set to be reopened this weekend, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced Tuesday in a news release, adding that while the reopening will at first be limited to daylight hours Saturdays and Sundays, the goal, in time, is to reopen Keawaula daily.
“It’s a long-overdue step towards equal treatment for the Waianae coast,” said state Rep. Cedric Gates, who represents Waianae, “because, as we know, other state parks were open while Waianae state parks remained effectively closed — when there’s no parking, that park in my eyes is still closed, because if you park on the road you can get a $200 ticket, and it’s dangerous.”
Although the beach and Kaena Point State Park hiking trail reopened in September, the Keawaula gates, formerly open 24/7, remained closed to bar large, unruly gatherings, bonfires, overnight camping, vandalism and other illegal behavior in the remote areas at the end of Farrington Highway, and because there was no funding to provide for more than part-time contract city and county lifeguards and one part-time state caretaker, said Curt Cottrell, administrator of DLNR’s Division of State Parks.
“A single caretaker from the Division of State Parks is assigned to the Makua and Keawaula sections, creating a major challenge after large, unpermitted events during 3-day holiday weekends,” Cottrell said in the statement, “(and) budget restrictions have frozen a second vacant park caretaker position indefinitely.”
The state Legislature’s appropriation of $2 million in the state budget to add a park ranger station in the area, which Gates helped push through, provided impetus for the partial reopening, Cottrell said in an email Thursday, after the Legislature passed the final budget April 27.
“It is an appreciated appropriation and State Parks is very grateful for the ability to reinvest in the Keawaula and Makua portions of Kaena State Parks,” Cottrell said, adding that the parks division was in negotiation with the Army to obtain possession of an abandoned military building alongside Farrington Highway in Makua that could be repurposed for park management and as a substation for enhanced DLNR law enforcement for these parks.
Another priority, he added, was refurbishing the Keawaula restrooms.
While the appropriation doesn’t cover staffing, Cottrell said, “once the hiring freeze is lifted and we confirm the (frozen caretaker) position was not abolished, then we would engage in recruitment to refill and double our workforce for these park units.”
Gates called upon DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement to allocate enough officers to enforce against illegal behaviors, and for the state parks division to come up with a long-term management plan.
Meanwhile, in a curatorship agreement with DLNR, Protectors of Paradise, a nonprofit community organization, has been helping with maintenance, keeping the park clean and educating park visitors throughout the gate closure, and will continue to do so, the agency confirmed.
“I’m very grateful to Protectors of Paradise, and other stakeholders and community groups, for dedicating their time to ensuring these parks remain pristine,” Gates said.
“With reopening, and more people flocking here, I’m enthusiastic the community will follow through and malama the ‘aina to make sure access to beautiful Keawaula, that holds such cultural significance, remains open,” he added.
Keawaula access gate reopening rules will be as follows, laid out in DLNR’s release:
• Weekend gate access from 6 a.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. Sundays beginning this Saturday. Gates close at 7 p.m. both days. This is in effect until Sept. 30, when all Oahu security gate contracts come up for renewal.
• Weekends and holidays, contracted lifeguards are on-site, and with no parks staff available on Sundays, lifeguards from the City and County of Honolulu Ocean Safety Division will open the gate when they arrive at their lifeguard tower at approximately 9 a.m.
• No overnight use is allowed. State Parks hopes and expects people will honor operating hours and leave on time. If not, vehicles will be locked in.
• Compliant day-use behavior will allow for the gate to continue to be opened on weekends. Vandalism and illegal nighttime activity will prompt a reevaluation.
• All current COVID protocols must be followed.
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