State plans would allow bikes on trail

Comments on Lower Waiohuli Trail improvements are due by Saturday

The state is proposing improvements to the Lower Waiohuli Trail that would heighten public safety and allow for bicycle use on the 1.5-mile path on Haleakala’s western slope.

Improvements to the trail would increase public safety and also make way for bikes, according to plans published by the Department of Land and Natural Resources in the Sept. 8 edition of The Environmental Notice. Comments on the plan are due by Saturday.

“The Maui bicycling community has been asking for this to happen for several years,” said Torrie Nohara, trails and access specialist for the Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “The Lower Waiohuli Trail as it is currently laid out is not engineered for bicycle traffic, and in many places is not a sustainable trail even for foot traffic.”

The Lower Waiohuli Trail starts along the Polipoli State Park Access Road and heads downslope, connecting with the Boundary Trail along the lower edge of the Kula Forest Reserve. The relatively steep trail meanders through dense vegetation and offers panoramic views of Kula and South Maui. Cool and foggy in the afternoons, the area gets about 35 inches of rain a year, according to the department’s draft environmental assessment.

Rain and wear over the years have led to stability issues on the trail, including drainage problems that could open the door to more erosion. The proposal says that “some areas of the trail have eroded to a point when an alternative route is needed, causing minor trail realignment to be a need.”

“The sections of the trail that go straight downhill are of special concern,” Nohara said. The proposed project calls for surface stabilization, drainage improvements and vegetation management. Some of the work would include installing rolling dips, which would redirect runoff to the side of the trail; clearing out dead trees; and minimizing fall-line trails, which are caused by runoff and carve a path directly down the ridge.

To allow bikes to use the trail, the department would also create bermed corners and turns. When asked whether bikes would increase the risk of erosion, Nohara said that “by engineering the trail specifically for bicycle use, erosion will be held in check.”

The department would design a trail that would control both the flow of water and the path of bikers.

“For example, we can make the course more challenging to slow the riders down, such as adding undulation to the trail,” Nohara explained. “By engineering a trail instead of just putting a trail in anywhere, more modern technology is utilized to make sure we don’t end up with fall-line trails (straight up a ridge) and that the water is channeled off the path.”

Local bike shop owners said having another trail would expand limited options Upcountry.

“I think there’s a huge need for a lot more biking trails,” said Aaron Reichert, owner of Krank Cycles in Makawao.

Reichert said he’s probably biased as a bike shop owner, but pointed out that trails would help accommodate the growing popularity of the sport. Biking Upcountry is a popular pastime for both tourists and locals, as well as surfers who are looking for chances to cross-train when the waves are flat, Reichert said.

Bob Nooney, who’s owned Island Biker for 31 years, agreed that mountain bikers have been hoping for more trails in the area.

“The users of Polipoli have been frustrated because there’s really the only one usable trail,” said Nooney, referencing the Mamane Trail. “I think (adding a trail) is a positive thing, and it’ll add to the recreational trail users’ experience.”

Because the department is still going through the environmental assessment process, there are no estimated costs or timelines yet. After the assessment is completed, a request for proposals will be sent out to find a contractor for the project. Nohara estimated the project will likely take six months to a year to complete.

To view the draft environmental assessment, see oeqc2.doh.hawaii.gov/EA_EIS_Library/2017-08-23-MA-DEA-Lower-Waiohuli-Trail-Improvements.pdf. To comment on the proposed plan, contact Torrie Nohara through mail at 1955 Main Street, Room 301, Wailuku 96793; via email at torrie.l.nohara@hawaii.gov; or by calling 984-8100.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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