New way to explore Ha’ena

Haena State Park played host to the Hawaii House of Representatives finance committee in November, the first time members have returned since 2017.

They made sure to take in the whole experience, traveling via the new North Shore Shuttle and walking the new boardwalk through the taro lo’i with visitors and hikers gearing up for a Napali Coast adventure.

Committee Chair, Rep. Sylvia Luke, summed it up in one word.

“Speechless,” she said, walking on the new boardwalk to Ke’e Beach. “I’m speechless. In 2017 we were overwhelmed with the number of cars parked and the number of people using the beach.

“It was an unpleasant experience coming here, we stood right here, feeling sad for the community and the culture. Now, it’s peaceful and tranquil.”

A Hawaiian Monk Seal lounges on Ke’e beach, just past the new Ha’ena boardwalk.

A lot has happened at Haena State Park since then — all propelled forward by the April 2018 floods that destroyed North Shore roads, property and the previous parking lot at Haena State Park.

Before that flood, state agencies and departments were working on the Haena State Park Master Plan.

Simultaneously, Rep. Nadine Nakamura was working on implementing more stringent parking fines.

“It gave us new opportunity for a new way of coming together to think of a better vision and better standards and to make Haena an example of how we can balance and create a better experience,” Luke said.

Now, non-Hawaii visitors to Haena State Park have to buy a pass to get into the park and a pass to park their car. The shuttle’s ticket to Ke‘e includes park entry fee.

Hawaii residents can park for free in the new lot with Hawaii identification.

“It makes for a quality experience,” Nakamura said. “We’ve even seen rangers here today, talking with people about hiking and checking passes.”

Local residents are providing positive feedback, too, Nakamura said. Presley Wann, of the Hui Maka‘ainana o Makana, seconded that, saying he’s seeing some Kauai residents he hasn’t seen in the area for years.

“My own family wouldn’t come here and now we see local families that know they can come here and there’s parking,” he said.

The hui has been working for years to integrate cultural education, subsistence-style living and the ancient ahupua‘a system of watershed management in the Ke‘e and Limahuli area.

Many of the new features at Haena State Park work with that vision; the boardwalk through the lo‘i provides a chance to see how taro is grown, and native plants near the parking lot provide examples for teaching.

A boardwalk now leads from the parking lot to the beach at Ha’ena on Kauai.

As they walked through the renovated state park, Luke pointed out this was a rare opportunity to see drastic change in a short amount of time, all moved along “with a little help from Mother Nature.”

“This is why we have field trips,” Nakamura added. “To come to an area and look at the problems and think about the ways we can help.”

Written for The Garden Island Newspaper, printed November 20, 2019. Photos by Jessica Else.

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Author and award-winning journalist Jessica Else currently works as the environment reporter on the island of Kauai and enjoys writing about sustainability projects, endangered animals, health and wellness, festivals and food, and outdoor adventuring.

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