Thirsting for Thurston

  • Tourists walk through the Thurston Lava Tube in 2016 at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

HILO — Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hopes to reopen one of its prime attractions, the Thurston Lava Tube, this year after improving traffic congestion issues in the park.

The lava tube, also known as Nahuku, has been closed to the public since the 2018 Kilauea eruption, out of concern that the thousands of earthquakes that occurred during the eruption might have compromised the tube’s structural integrity.

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Since the reopening of the park, structural analyses have been conducted on the tube, including one by a National Park Service mining engineer who created a 3D laser scan of the tube’s interior. That data is being compared to a pre-eruption scan of the tube in order to determine what changes, if any, were created in the interim and whether they would threaten visitors’ safety, said park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane.

That comparison has not yet been completed, Ferracane said, possibly because of the monthlong shutdown of the federal government that began in December. However, initial impressions from the analysis have the park’s administration hopeful that the tube can be reopened sometime this year.

“We can’t commit to a date yet,” Ferracane said. “It seems every time we set a date, we end up having to backpedal.”

Before the tube reopens, Ferracane said the park will consider certain ways to mitigate any danger in the tube, possibly including installing monitoring equipment inside to observe whether cracks in the tube are growing or expanding.

Other monitoring equipment will be installed outside the tube to mitigate traffic congestion.

Ferracane said the stretch of Crater Rim Drive outside Nahuku is prone to extreme traffic congestion which has led to fender-benders on busy days.

“We haven’t had any pedestrian strikes, but it feels like it’s just a matter of time,” Ferracane said.

Ferracane said the park intends to improve the parking situation on Crater Rim Drive before reopening the lava tube, adding that the park has been working on congestion solutions since before the eruption.

“We don’t want to run backwards to our old problems,” Ferracane said, explaining that the traffic congestion had led to complaints and a “really poor experience” for visitors.

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In the meantime, Ferracane said the park is grateful for the public’s patience, because the park was unable to address any volcano recovery projects during the government shutdown and lost more than 41,000 man-hours of work during that time.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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