Thousands visit HVNP after reopening

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Ranger Rick Lamontagne talks with guests at Kilauea Visitor Center Saturday during the reopening of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

  • Guests line up to enter Kilauea Visitor Center Saturday during the reopening of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Visitors at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on Sept. 22 after the park was reopened, see how Halemaumau crater has expanded since the beginning of Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone eruption.

  • Visitors see how Halemaumau crater has expanded since the beginning of May’s East Rift Zone eruption during the reopening of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Hollyn Johnson/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — More than 15,000 people visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park since it partially reopened last month.

According to official park numbers, 2,688 people visited the park on Sept. 22, the day of its reopening. The following week, the park recorded an average of about 1,984 visitors each day, with a high of 2,341 on Thursday, Sept. 27.

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Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando said the number of visitors is on par with Septembers past, when the number of visitors to the park typically decreases. However, she said it was an impressive turnout, considering much of the park remains closed because of significant damage caused by seismic activity during Kilauea’s eruption in lower Puna earlier this year.

The strong turnout is a welcome reprieve to Volcano businesses, many of which were struggling with a significant loss of business.

“I think it’s picking up a little bit,” said Tom Smith, owner of Volcano restaurant Ohelo Cafe. Smith said the restaurant was able to reopen for lunch, which he could not afford to do during the downturn.

However, Smith said the number of customers is not even close to rates from before the park’s closure, adding that it will take a long time before his business makes a complete recovery.

Orlando said it is still premature to discuss any second phase of reopening for the park. Assessments of the park’s trails are still ongoing, with certain areas still unstable and prone to rockfalls.

“Sometimes a trail looks fine, and then the next day there’s a boulder on it,” Orlando said.

While Orlando said the park “might be able to consider” opening some of its backcountry trails next, she said there are no concrete plans for how the park will continue to reopen. Some areas are so badly damaged that it is unclear if they will ever be safe for visitors again.

Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane emphasized that the restricted areas of the park are still very unsafe. Three visitors from Oahu were caught sneaking into the closed area of the park near Jaggar Museum on Sept. 23, having evidently walked across Highway 11 and bypassed three closure signs.

The three were apprehended by National Park Service enforcement officers, who cited all three interlopers with closure violation. One of the three also was cited for disorderly conduct for attempting to escape capture.

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Ferracane also urged visitors to be on the lookout for nene, which have grown accustomed to the absence of humans during the park’s 134 days of closure and frequently walk on the park’s roadways.

Ferracane advised people to obey the posted speed limits and to give the geese their space, particularly as their breeding and nesting season begins.

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