Number of visitors increases at HVNP

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Two hikers walk past a sign that requires masks if social distancing can not be maintained at Nāhuku, or Thurston Lava Tube, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Volcano on Monday, April 12, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Sarah Zotea and Ricardo Flores walk through Nāhuku, or Thurston Lava Tube, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Volcano on Monday, April 12, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A family walks through the Nahuku, or Thurston Lava Tube, last week in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Volcano.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Ricardo Flores, left, and Sarah Zotea take a photo of the Thurston Lava Tube before entering last week.

With National Park Week underway, attendance at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park continues to increase as more tourists visit the Big Island.

According to Jessica Ferracane, spokeswoman for HVNP, the number of visitors has risen as travel restrictions eased and COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.

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“The park is seeing visitation numbers that meet or exceed the number of arrivals to the island,” Ferracane said. “In March, we had an average of 2,436 visitors a day with a noticeable surge during spring break.”

Areas of the park that were open before the COVID-19 pandemic are now open again with the exception of the exhibits and auditorium inside the Kilauea Visitor Center.

While the park is still not offering ranger-guided hikes or programs, park officials are exploring how to resume them safely, according to Ferracane.

To alleviate the need of a park ranger, a new National Park Service application launched ahead of National Park Week.

“The Hawaii Volcanoes app is also a terrific resource,” Ferracane said. “It‘s like having a park ranger in your pocket with trail guides, operating hours and alerts that are mirrored from the park website.”

HVNP is celebrating National Park Week through Sunday, April 25, with a Storybook Trail for families and visitors of all ages to safely explore on their own throughout the week.

Story stations from the children’s book “Nani Na Nene” will be posted along Crater Rim Trail, from behind Volcano House to Kupina‘i Pali (Waldron Ledge), to educate hikers about the rare Hawaiian goose.

HVNP recently reopened Nahuku, or Thurston Lava Tube, on March 26 after closing the area for a year because of the pandemic.

In 2018, the park closed the lava tube following the eruption and summit collapse of Kilauea volcano because of structural changes inside the tube. HVNP reopened it in February 2020 after safety mitigation measures were met.

The popular walk-through lava tube was only open for a month before it had to close once again in March 2020. Staff ultimately decided to close the tube since the trail did not allow for proper social distancing.

After a risk assessment was performed, the lava tube was reopened March 26 as a one-way trail requiring masks if social distancing is not possible.

“We felt better about opening the lava tube when President Biden signed the executive order that required people to wear masks in national parks when it is not possible to socially distance,” Ferracane said. “We also made it a one-way trail to help with circulation and crowd control.”

The lava tube is considered an indoor space by HVNP, which caused staff to wait to reopen the trail until it was safe to do so.

Since reopening, many visitors and residents have taken the time to walk through the 500-year-old tube.

“We’ve gotten an overwhelmingly positive response from visitors to local community members,” Ferracane said. “It is also nice to see most people following the mask and social distancing orders. Everyone seems to be complying with minimal hesitation.”

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Nahuku is open 24 hours and is lit from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Visitors are asked to bring a head lamp or flashlight if they are visiting after dark. Restrooms near the lava tube are open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and a new vault toilet is available a half-mile away at the Kilauea Iki parking lot.

More information about HVNP can be found at www.nps.gov/hawaiivolcanoes.

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