Hawaii Volcanoes National Park seeing around 2,000 daily visitors since reopening

  • Visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park upon its reopening Sept. 22 see how Halema‘uma‘u crater has expanded since the beginning of the Kilauea volcano’s lower East Rift Zone in May. (Hollyn Johnson/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — Monday marked the one-month anniversary since the reopening of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and business seems steady.

Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said the number of visitors to the park consistently has remained at about 2,000 visitors daily, with boosts on cruise ship days.

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“That’s about on par with the numbers we had in September of last year,” Ferracane said, adding that September is historically a slow month for Big Island tourism in general.

Most of the trails in the park — which closed in May during a period of violent seismic activity during the Kilauea volcano eruption — are now back in service since portions of the park reopened Sept. 22, Ferracane said.

Ferracane said that, while the park has not had to cite anybody for attempting to visit restricted areas within its boundaries since Sept. 23 — when three Oahu visitors attempted to reach the closed Jaggar Museum — the park has had to rescue hikers from backcountry trails.

Ferracane said overgrown foliage on the park’s Keauhou Trail necessitated a search and rescue operation after a hiker became disoriented Monday, and another visitor became lost at Pu‘u Huluhulu last week. Both hikers were found quickly, Ferracane said.

However, she said two trails, the Ka‘u Desert Trail and the Kilauea Iki Trail, remain closed. The latter trail cannot reopen, she said, because a minor earthquake dislodged boulders that fell and damaged the trail, creating a significant risk for visitors.

Ferracane also was unable to confirm when Thurston Lava Tube — also known as Nahuku — might reopen for visitors.

“Still, we’re expecting big numbers when the winter season picks back up,” she said.

Ross Birch, president of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said official visitor numbers for September have not been released, so the direct impact of the park’s reopening on the island’s greater tourism industry cannot yet be calculated. However, he said he thinks the island is already doing better than it has in recent months.

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“If we can meet the numbers from September of last year … which was about 120,000, then I would consider that a huge success,” Birch said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.