Hawaii Volcanoes National Park releases draft management plan

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What course should the state’s most popular national park take over the next two decades?

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What course should the state’s most popular national park take over the next two decades?

The question is at the heart of a draft general management plan released for public comment today by Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The public has 60 days to weigh in on the three scenarios presented by the National Park Service.

The park’s visitor load will be more evenly dispersed, with less emphasis on the crowded Thurston Lava Tube and increased educational and recreational opportunities along Chain of Craters Road and Mauna Loa Road, under a preferred vision laid out in the 548-page plan, wilderness study and environmental impact statement.

The plan also contains a possible 16,457-acre land purchase at Pohue Bay and expands the park boundaries to include more than 5,500 acres of the Great Crack and Ala Waii parcels.

A new 2.5-mile walking and biking trail between the Kilauea Visitor Center and Jaggar Museum could be in the offing, under the plan. A campus plan would integrate the visitor center, the Ohia Wing, the Volcano Art Center and pa hula area, with increased parking, and restrooms relocated to the back of the visitor center to make room for more interpretive space.

The southern portion of Crater Rim Drive and the Halemaumau Overlook would reopen when the eruption is at a level that it does not pose a public hazard. The Thurston Lava Tube area could see vehicle size limitations for parking, a reservation system for commercial parking and better traffic and parking information via real-time reader boards.

The park’s new southern unit, Kahuku, would extend makai to the shore at Pohue Bay under the possible purchase of private land. Kahuku would be developed gradually to include seven-day-a-week operation, trails and small campgrounds, while maintaining a rustic experience. Portions of the area would also receive wilderness designation under the plan.

Under a second alternative that has many of the same provisions as the first, a greater emphasis would be placed on educational and stewardship opportunities. The now-closed portion of Crater Rim Drive would be serviced only by a mandatory park shuttle, under one option the park would explore. Public parking at Thurston Lava Tube would be removed except for parking for the disabled, and reliance on a shuttle system increased. Parking would be diverted to Kilauea Iki, Devastation Trail and Puu Puai, and rangers would offer guided, science-focused tours to other lava tubes to reduce the pressure on Thurston Lava Tube.

A third “no action” alternative is to leave the park’s focus and function much the same as it is now.

The document is meant to “articulate a management philosophy and framework for decision-making and problem-solving,” according to a press release from HVNP.

The document is based on five years of public comment, stakeholder meetings, field research and Native Hawaiian consultation. The park will host a talk-story session on the proposal from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 10 at the Kilauea Visitor Center, and will hold a formal hearing on the wilderness study at the same time.

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The complete draft general management plan, wilderness study and environmental impact statement, plus an opportunity to comment online, can be found at parkplanning.nps.gov/havogmp.

Comments can also be mailed to Superintendent, Attn: DGMP/WS/EIS, P.O. Box 52, Hawaii National Park, HI 96718-0052. The public comment period will remain open through June 30.

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