Renovation to repair ‘decades of wear’ at Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park is in the midst of repairing all seven visitor parking lots after “decades of wear,” but the project is creating challenges for those who make the trek up the 10,000-foot mountain.

“This is an extensive renovation from the ground up,” Haleakala Management Assistant Howard Forbes said in a phone interview Friday.

The $2 million-grant-funded project headed by the Federal Highway Administration encompasses lots – and 260 stalls – at Hosmer Grove, the Headquarters Visitor Center, Halemau’u, Leleiwi, Kalahaku, the Haleakala Visitor Center, and Pu’u ‘ula’ula (Red Hill) at the summit. The repairs, which began in late May, are set to finish in early September.

“There were two objectives to the work. One was to rehabilitate the lots, which have suffered damage due to decades of wear and minor seismic activity,” Forbes said. “They were developing large cracks, and it was becoming a safety hazard.”

The second goal, he said, was to bring handicap stalls up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards, which involved repaving and leveling sloped handicap stalls.

“The parking lots were in poor condition,” he said, noting that the project will not increase parking spaces and actually will convert a few regular stalls to handicapped ones.

The repairs have forced the park to shut down or limit parking in lots. In May, crews closed at least half of the Haleakala Visitor Center’s 100-stall parking lot during construction, and on Thursday, the park completed repairs to about 40 stalls at the 10,023-foot summit after a weeklong closure of the lot and the road to vehicles and pedestrians.

“There were some visitors who had expectations of getting to the summit (for the sunrise), but if you didn’t get there early enough, lots would be full and you would have to park in lower lots,” Forbes said. “That seemed to be the only part of the day where we had that issue, though.

“I think on any day, we’re turning people away even when we’re not doing construction. . . . The problem was compounded when we had to close about one-third of the stalls up there.”

Park officials do not believe that setting up a shuttle to the summit when lots are full is feasible; shuttles would create their own issues and present potential dangers to the park’s natural resources, Forbes said.

“It was a challenge handling people on half a lot, so our belief was that we would be creating congestion and a safety hazard by allowing too many people,” he explained.

Forbes acknowledged the frustration of some visitors and the inconvenience of having construction during the busy summer season at one of the island’s most popular natural visitor destinations. Still, he said that the work had to be done in the summer, noting problems with a project in the winter of 2009.

“We tried to apply pavement preservation materials on the last two miles of the summit, and when the sun would go down and the wind picked up it would actually crystalize the tar.” he said. “When officials reviewed the site, their advice . . . was to ‘do any pavement work during the warmest months of the year.’ It was that simple; it was just too cold.”

Repairs to the popular Headquarters Visitor Center parking lot will begin Monday, and the lot will remain closed until Aug. 13. Cars parked at the center at the 7,000-foot elevation must leave the lot by 7:30 a.m. or be ticketed and towed.

Restrooms, bus parking and the center will remain open during construction, but during busy times, signs at the park entrance station will direct cars to short-term parking, restrooms and an information tent on Hosmer Grove Road. General information, as well as back-country camping and cabin permits, will be available at the tent.

Forbes said that the park is doing its best to notify the public of the ongoing construction through its website and news releases.

He added that the project is “precisely on schedule.”

“This is something we hope to avoid in the future or at least several decades,” he said. “We’re hopeful these lots are going to last, because it’s a big investment.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at