After 7 months, Kepaniwai Park to reopen

A storm-filled Wailuku River ripped through the area in September, taking a chunk of the parking lot downstream

The county’s Kepaniwai Park will reopen Monday. It has been closed since floodwaters from the Wailuku River caused damage to the park Sept. 13. -- County of Maui / LOIS WHITNEY photo

The Maui News

The county’s Kepaniwai Park in Iao Valley, which has been closed since the raging Wailuku River flooded the park and tore away a piece of the parking lot Sept. 13, will reopen Monday.

The county filled in a drop-off sheered away by the floodwaters with boulders and rocks, leaving a smaller parking lot, though the majority of spaces appear to have been retained. Waterlines torn away in the flood have been repaired, county officials said earlier this year.

The park pavilions and lower restroom will be open Monday, with the upper restroom to open later next week, the county said Friday. The park will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

To date, Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration has requested about $6 million in emergency funding for repair work from the flooding, which includes money for Kepaniwai Park. A county spokeswoman could not break out the cost for the Kepaniwai repairs Friday evening.

County officials initially said in October that the Kepaniwai repairs could reach $10 million.

Kepaniwai Park is a top attraction for tourists and a place of residents to hold parties and play in the river. The park has cultural exhibits representing the major ethnic groups that make up the island. Mud and debris washed through the pavilions and some of the exhibits Sept. 13.

The rocks used to rebuild the embankment were removed following the flood and returned to the valley for the repair work. Arakawa has said that some smaller rocks caught in trees and other compostable material taken to the landfill were crushed, creating a firestorm among some Native Hawaiian practitioners who said that the rocks were sacred.

Native Hawaiian groups also protested Wailuku Water Co.’s work to get to the water to flow over its intakes again after the floodwaters changed the course of the river.

Meanwhile, work on repairs to the Iao Valley State Monument continue up the road. The park remains closed with plans to reopen in June, state officials have said.

The raging river scoured the cliffside along the parking lot and left a sheer, exposed dirt face about 60 feet high. Trails along the lower part of the park were washed away, leaving behind only metal handrails.

Despite the closure and the dangerous conditions, people have been venturing up the river to the closed park, to the dismay of the state and repair crews. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources on its website warned that people venturing into Iao Valley state park could be charged with a petty misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

The floodwaters the evening of Sept. 13 were recorded at 10,900 cubic feet per second and flooded homes downstream from Kepaniwai Park. Residents were forced to flee to their roofs and second floors to escape the raging Wailuku River, whose streambed was widened and course altered by the event. The Wailuku River flowed near the top of its banks as it passed through Happy Valley.