Off-roading activities endanger environment

| March 13, 2010 | 0 Comments

Jack Wiers
U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public Affairs

KAENA POINT STATE PARK — Navigating the pristine ocean-side trails of Kaena Point State Park — where the land is dotted with native vegetation, and sand and rock meet the oftentimes turbulent ocean — offers one of those “a-ha” experiences only found in Hawaii.

Unfortunately, this nearly three-mile stretch of coastline has been under siege — no thanks to the increasing number of four-wheel-drive, off-roading activities that have damaged the area’s fragile ecosystem.

Dunes damaged by off-roading activities are restored at Kaena Point. (Courtesy Photo)As a result, future access to the park is in doubt as concerned state officials, area residents and the military community weigh options in an effort to preserve the area.

“It’s a mess, made even worse with the growing promotion and word of mouth about Kaena Point throughout the off-roading community,” stressed Randall Kennedy, manager, Natural Area Reserve Program, State Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Members of the local Army community are among the contributing groups that have been creating “a kind of mud-bogging free-for-all,” according to Curt Cottrell, administrative assistant, Hawaii State Parks. Cottrell and others, including the nonprofit group Friends of Kaena, are working toward developing and enforcing stricter regulations to protect Kaena Point.

Postings on the Internet, particularly on the popular YouTube Web site, show local clubs and off-roaders creating and burrowing through huge mud bogs that were once sand dunes at Kaena.

“Since the advent of the Internet, (off-roading has) basically gotten out of control,” said Summer Nemeth, an area resident whose family had once lived and fished in the Kaena Point area for generations.

“Everyone’s access is threatened with the level of damage being done,” she added.

Adding to the woes is the proliferation of four-wheel-drive vehicles, many owned by local members of the military.

“We want to remind our Soldiers and family members that they are guests in these islands,” said Col. Matthew Margotta, commander, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii. “We share responsibility for the maintenance and stewardship of our community and state lands.”

DLNR and State Park officials formed the Kaena Point Advisory Group in 2009, a coalition comprised of representatives from the DLNR, North Shore and Waianae neighborhoods, Camp Erdman, Office of Hawaiian Affairs and local fishermen.

While members identified off-roading at Kaena as an escalating problem, they also determined that restricting access to the area was not a preferred solution.

“We have the authority to shut (access to Kaena) down,” noted Cottrell, adding, “but the goal is to come up with a process where this area can be properly regulated.”

Kaena Point is not the only site where damaging off-roading is being addressed. Nearby Mokuleia has also caught the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the Air Force has also faced similar situations with Bellows Beach.

State officials are working toward providing off-roaders an authorized alternative solution. A mud-bogging site is under construction at Sand Island State Park near the Honolulu International Airport. Cottrell says this location, with an already operating adjacent BMX cycling course, is expected to be open to off-roaders within two or three months.

In the meantime, Nemeth, who holds a master’s degree in education, feels strongly about the need to educate people, noting many are simply uninformed. The many Kaena off-roading videos and blogs feature local Army and military members. That makes them a focus of the advisory groups’ awareness campaign.

It looks bad for the military when they are being represented by a group of people who demonstrate a lack of care for this place, Nemeth said.

“I know there are those in the military who appreciate and enjoy the beauty that Kaena has to offer, but unfortunately, in this situation, it appears that they are a minority,” she said.

Her message is not to spoil others’ fun,“Everyone needs ways to alleviate stress,” she said, “but not (at the expense of) destroying lands and cultural areas.”

“The way we treat these lands and interact with the Hawaiian people has a profound impact on the community’s view of the Army,” added Margotta.

“We should strive to do everything possible to make our impact a positive one,” he said.

Category: Community Relations, Native Hawaiian Community Program, News

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