Tour companies trying to hang on

  • Night falls on the summit of Maunakea in this file photo. (Photo courtesy /Adam Atwood)
  • In this Sunday, July 14, 2019, file photo, the sun sets behind telescopes at the summit of Maunakea. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)
  • The Keck twin telescopes survey the night skies atop Maunakea. (Courtesy photo by ETHAN TWEEDIE/W.M. Keck Observatory)
  • Stars shine above the Gemini Observatory atop Maunakea in this file photo. (Courtesy photo)

HILO — Maunakea tour companies are restructuring and selling off equipment as the closure of the access road and inability to conduct stargazing tours stretches into the ninth week.

The Maunakea Access Road was closed July 15 in preparation for movement of machinery up the mountain to build the Thirty Meter Telescope. It has subsequently been blocked by protesters, who call themselves “protectors,” opposing construction of the $1.4 billion cutting-edge instrument.

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Interviews Monday with owners of some of the eight companies licensed to ferry guests to the summit of the mountain for Maunakea sunset, stargazing and educational excursions, revealed employee cutbacks and reduced visitor trips overall.

The companies specializing in summit excursions, such as Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, are being hit harder than others.

“Mauna Kea Summit Adventures is having a BIG, surplus equipment sale. We have several big, computerized telescopes, optics, astrophotography gear, tripods etc.,” its Craigslist ad states.

The notice, posted Friday, shows the sale as taking place in Kailua-Kona’s Old Industrial Area at 74-5606 Pawai Place, Suite 10. Telescopes like those shown in the ad tend to be long lifetime items, usable for decades, an expert said.

“Another local business destroyed by the protesters, employees laid off, livelihoods ruined,” amateur astronomer and electrician Andrew Cooper, who is employed at the Maunakea observatory, said in a Sunday public Facebook post sharing the Craigslist ad.

Two Mauna Kea Summit Adventures spokesmen couldn’t be reached for comment by press-time Monday.

Still, tour guides are finding other places to take guests that offer alternative venues for sunsets and stars, and some have added other attractions, such as farm tours, to their repertoires.

Hawaii Forest &Trail has eliminated “a few” positions and is currently in the process of restructuring, said Jason Cohn, vice president of sales and marketing.

The company has struck up an agreement with the Girl Scouts to bring stargazers to Camp Kilohana, which is at 6,000 feet elevation on Maunakea. The company also takes visitors to waterfalls, bird-watching, zip-lines, volcanoes and hikes.

And, it’s pushing the Flavors of Hawaii farm-to-table foodie tours it began July 30. But an apparent disagreement with the Edmund C. Olson Trust has forced the tour company to switch from the trust’s OK Farms to nearby Lavaloha Farm.

“We’re not going to be continuing to go there after October,” Cohn said. “We just made adjustments to our tours; it’s not that we’re not being locked out or anything.”

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Troy Keolanui, a member of Olson’s management team and co-owner of OK Farms, didn’t want to talk about it.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Keolanui said.

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