More volunteers arriving at summit to protect the park

Friends of Haleakala National Park volunteers Mele Stokesberry (from left), Maggie J.B. Sutrov and her daughter, Maggie Sutrov, talk with visitors at a makeshift informational table outside the closed Haleakala Visitor Center on Sunday. Nonprofit members said their visits Saturday and Sunday were a way to help further their mission of protecting and preserving the mountain. LAURA MILLER photos

Equipped with park guidelines, maps and other information, Friends of Haleakala National Park volunteers spent last weekend at the summit in an effort to help protect the park.

Since the partial federal government shutdown began more than a month ago, Native Hawaiians, who imbue the mountain with spiritual, cultural and environmental significance, along with volunteers, such as Friends of Haleakala National Park, have voiced concerns over potential park violations, such as visitors taking rocks, going off trails, or disrupting endangered silversword plants.

Native Hawaiians in recent weeks have made treks to the summit to practice cultural traditions as well as gently remind visitors of park rules.

“We’ve been feeling that we really must help out,” said Friends of Haleakala National Park publicity coordinator Mele Stokesberry on Tuesday. “It’s the mission of the Friends of Haleakala National Park to ‘protect, preserve and improve the park.’ Protection of resources was an important reason to go up, but we found on both days that there were many visitors so very appreciative of finding someone to give them a map or answer questions.”

Three volunteers manned a Friends of Haleakala National Park table Saturday and four did so on Sunday. Volunteer Laura Miller said the group was at the Summit Visitor Center, which is closed due to furloughs, answering questions, providing maps and flyers, and urging visitors to stay on the trail.

Friends of Haleakala National Park volunteer Laura Miller cleans trash around a silversword at the Haleakala summit on Sunday.

The group, which does monthly service trips into the crater, also picked up trash and provided toilet paper to backpackers.

Heeding the Trump administration’s call to keep national parks open with little to no services since the partial shutdown began Dec. 22, Haleakala National Park has been manned by a small incident command team working minimal hours without pay. Sunrise visits continue for those with reservations, and there is no entrance fee.

Park spokeswoman Nancy Stimson last week assured the public that park rangers were on the job.

“Haleakala National Park rangers are enforcing all regulations during the lapse in appropriated funds,” she said in a news release. “Citations may be issued by law enforcement rangers.”

Haleakala is the top attraction on Maui, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. In September, there were 72,300 visits to the mountain, according to the National Park Services Visitor Use Statistics (September was the latest month of data available).

In 2017, the park saw 1,112,390 visitors. Numbers for 2018 have not yet been released.

A week ago, the Summit Visitor Center parking lot was only partially full at about 10 a.m. with a dozen or so hikers traversing the Sliding Sands trail. Only a handful of hikers were seen tackling the trails on the crater floor, and there was a tent up at the Holua Cabin campgrounds in the late afternoon.

The parking lot at the Kipahulu Visitor Center was packed at midafternoon on Jan. 20 with a steady stream of hikers going up and down the Pipiwai Trail. The restrooms were open.

Miller said she hopes visitors are careful when touring the summit and other park areas, especially during the staff shortages.

“I want HNP visitors to know that the ecosystem in the park is delicate, and being in the park is a privilege,” she said. “Extra care must be taken to stay on designated hiking trails and to properly dispose of anything you bring in with you.”

Friends of Haleakala National Park will continue to schedule volunteer visits during the shutdown and have one planned for this weekend, Stokesberry said.

“Many, many people came up to us to express their appreciation for there being someone there to help out and give information,” she said.

For information on the partial government shutdown and its impact on the park, visit www.nps.gov.

* Staff Writer Lee Imada contributed to this report. Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.