Bad behavior prompts closure of Kauai state park

  • The sun sets at Polihale State Park, with Ni‘ihau and Lehua in the distance. (Michael Diamant/Contributed photo)

LIHUE — The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has indefinitely closed Polihale State Park on Kauai, citing overuse and reckless behavior by visitors.

Polihale was among a group of state parks targeted for closure following what the land and natural resources department labeled “egregious” public misuse, The Garden Island reported Thursday.

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Some Kauai officials and residents supported the announcement, while others questioned whether there could have been better enforcement of rules at the park known for frequent illegal camping and other unapproved activities.

The natural resources agency said enforcement of park rules is extremely difficult because of the park’s large size and isolated location.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has exacerbated those issues and public health and safety concerns contributed to the decision to close the park, officials said.

Numerous complaints have been made about large gatherings and a lack of social distancing, visitors relieving themselves in the fragile ecological system and trucks racing on the beach and driving through the park’s dunes.

The department cited a recent weekend during which more than 1,000 people camped in the park, with only 80 of those legally permitted to stay.

Prohibited activity was documented through social media posts and observations by park staff, although no one was cited, fined or arrested.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami emphasized the need for personal responsibility and community care for public spaces.

“Polihale was shut down because people were not following the rules,” Kawakami said in a statement Wednesday. “And now responsible families, who were using this time to reconnect with each other and enjoy special places like Polihale, are suffering the consequences.”

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Democratic state Rep. Dee Morikawa said the natural resources agency should have assessed its enforcement abilities before the park reopened following a temporary coronavirus closure.

“If DLNR didn’t have the capability to do maintenance and enforce rules, they should have never opened it up,” Morikawa said.

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