The popular Maunawili Falls Trail will be temporarily closed, starting next Thursday, for a long-term management and improvement project, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The closure is expected to last two years, and will include the trailhead near the Maunawili Estate subdivision in Windward Oahu. The project will include a possible realignment of the trail to protect historic, cultural sites. A blessing was held this morning to mark the beginning of the project.
“We appreciate everyone’s patience as we work on improvements to the Maunawili Falls Trail,” said Marigold Zoll, Oahu Branch Manager for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, in a news release. “We look forward to working with the community on a plan that honors and preserves the natural and cultural resources of Maunawili and also affords visitors opportunities to respectfully enjoy the valley.”
State officials said they are acting on the recommendation of a cultural consultant in an effort to preserve cultural and archaeological sites. An initial assessment by Honua Consulting identified Native Hawaiian cultural and archaeological features throughout the valley, such as heiau, agricultural terraces, and auwai constructions.
DOFAW is also working with the landowner to permanently close the access point at Maunawili Estate.
For years, Maunawili Estate residents have expressed frustration with an onslaught of visitors and local hikers passing through their quiet neighborhood to get to the Maunawili Falls Trail.
Hikers reportedly left trash behind in the neighborhood, used residents’ bathrooms and garden hoses, at times without permission, to wash off muddy shoes, and parked in front of driveways.
The trail itself has also deteriorated from overuse, becoming muddy and eroded.
Last week, My Kailua posted a photo of the waters by the fall packed with hikers. Followers of MyKailua lamented how the waterfall is now overrun with tourists.
In recent weeks, the Honolulu Fire Department has also rescued a number injured hikers from the Maunawili Falls Trail, mostly visitors.
On Tuesday, firefighters airlifted a 47-year-old woman visiting from California after she injured her right knee while hiking the trail with others.
Over Fourth of July weekend, firefighters airlifted a woman in her 50s who reportedly injured her back after jumping from the top of the falls.
In June, firefighters responded to Maunawili Falls numerous times, including a 44-year-old visitor who fell and injured her wrist while hiking, along with a 48-year-old mother visiting from South Caroline who injured her ankle after slipping in a muddy area while hiking with her two teen-aged children.
In late June, more than 10 firefighters also responded to a group of lost hikers on the Maunawili Falls Trail — five adult hikers from San Francisco who had gotten lost at about 8:20 p.m. on a Wednesday, with no flashlights and minimal battery life remaining on their cell phones. Firefighters were able to find the group and escort them to safety, with no injuries reported.
DLNR said while the trailhead is closed, hikers will still be able to visit Maunawili Falls via Maunawili Trail, which is accessed from the scenic overlook just beyond the hairpin turn off of Pali Highway.
There are a few parking stalls at this overlook, but officials said long-term parking is not permitted there, and hikers should be dropped off.
DLNR said the master plan project will “explore enhancements, such as developing on-site parking and comfort station facilities for trail users away from the adjacent neighborhood.” It will also address policies and procedures “to support sustainable, long-term use of the trail in a way that prioritizes the protection of the cultural sites and is sensitive to area residents.”
DLNR has hired Helber Hastert & Fee, Planners to conduct the community planning process and produce the master plan.