My Turn: An unpleasant end to a wonderful visit

  • In late January, three cars were locked inside Lapakahi State Historical Park after not making it out before the gate was locked at 4 p.m. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

In late January, almost at the end of what had been a wonderful visit (our first) to Hawaii, we had a very unpleasant experience at Lapakahi State Historical Park. Apparently, what happened to us is something that happens frequently at that park.

We arrived in the mid-afternoon. The signage said that there would be no entry after 3:30 p.m. and that the gate at the top of the entrance road to the park would be closed at 4. We didn’t make the 4 p.m. exit deadline. The direction signs for the loop trail were confusing, the final part of the path back to the parking lot appeared to blocked, and we had to retrace our steps over the longer part of the path we had already walked. I am mobility- and balance-challenged, so I had to walk carefully and slowly.

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When we tried to drive out the park, the gate at the top of the entrance road was locked, and we were inside — along with the people in three other cars. Among the people who were locked in, three were elderly, one (me) was handicapped, and another had fallen while walking the trail in the park.

We had expected that whoever was going to be in charge of closing the park would check to see if people were still inside, and would warn anyone inside before locking them in. This did not happen. We had expected that if we did find the gate locked, there would be a sign telling us how to call for assistance. There was no such sign. We certainly did not expect that it would be impossible to contact anyone who would be able to open the gate for us, but that is exactly what happened.

The Hawaii Police Department officers who arrived in response to our 911 call said that this was the fourth time that week that people had been locked inside the gate at this park.

They did not have a key, and their attempts on previous occasions to get one or to contact someone who could open the gate and let people out had been unsuccessful. They said we all might have to leave our cars inside the gate overnight and come back in the morning to retrieve them, even though that would involve a risk of the cars being vandalized in that remote location. The officers shared our anger and frustration and agreed that our being locked in with no way of opening the gate should not have happened in the first place.

In the end, we all decided to see if we could drive our cars up the hilly and rocky embankment to the main road. It was a risk, but we did make it, although one car had to be pushed from behind and pulled from the front with a strap attached to another car.

If this is a recurring problem, which apparently is the case, something needs to be done. Locking people and their cars inside a remote park because they did not or possibly could not make the posted exit time is draconian and shows no consideration for possible consequences. Suppose someone had a medical emergency inside the park and an ambulance could not get to the lower part of the park. Suppose there had been a fire and people had not been able to leave.

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And in any case, this is no way to make visitors to Hawaii feel welcome.

John Green is a resident of Swampscott, Massachusetts.