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Native Hawaiians keep eye on visitors to Haleakala crater

There are reports of trash piling up, trampling off trail

Native Hawaiian practitioners have headed up Haleakala to “assist the mountain” by gently reminding visitors to take their trash with them, to stay on trails and to leave rocks in the park.

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.

There are reports of lots of visitors to the summit, trash piling up near parking lots and people trampling near endangered plants and sites.

“I’m extremely concerned,” said a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner who chose to remain anonymous due to several high-profile affiliations. “Tourists are doing whatever they want.”

The practitioner visited the park recently and said it was “super crowded” with lots of trash near the parking lot area. Calling it a tourist free-for-all, the the practitioner reported seeing a child throw rocks near a silversword, people veering off paths to take photos and one man placed a rock in his vehicle before the practitioner could intervene.

Haleakala stands out among many other parks in the U.S. because it serves as a cultural, historical and spiritual source for the Native Hawaiian people. Translated as “House of the Sun,” the mountain is viewed as Pele’s house, and still contains spiritual iwi, or burials, with strong ancestral connections to some island residents.

Joyclynn Costa, a Haiku resident and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, said she visited the summit Jan. 1 with a group of residents as a response to a spiritual call. In addition to practicing traditions at the site, the group helped inform visitors of park guidelines.

“Some young men were never instructed, but they naturally informed people of a code of conduct once they got there,” she said. “Respect the mountain. Do not leave your rubbish. Do not take with you any rocks. Do not remove any resources. It was nonconfrontational and very productive.”

Costa said she appreciates the work of the federal government. Although the mountain is one of the most spiritual parts of the island for Native Hawaiians, she said the federal government has been maintaining and watching over the area. With the furloughs, she said more “keiki o ka aina” (children of the land) are traveling to protected areas statewide.

“Since the kahea (call) went out, there have been more people concerned and aware,” Costa said. “There are people who will gently remind others to stay on the trail, to take out trash. Other islands are doing the same thing now.”

“We did not go to assist the government; we went to assist the mountain,” she added. “That has to be clear.”

The Haiku resident, with roots in Nahiku, said she would have liked more preparation before the shutdown, possibly adding more signage on natural resource and park rules.

Some summit visitor companies, which are still operating at the park, have been donating time to clear out trash and clean restrooms.

“We are concerned about the shutdown’s impact on Haleakala,” said Mele Stokesberry, publicity coordinator for the nonprofit Friends of Haleakala National Park. “Plus, the park is losing money.”

Instead of offering specific rules for visitors, Costa said that people can imagine the protocol when visiting someone else’s home.

“All I can picture is a front porch and everyone taking off their slippers,” she said. “We’re all human beings. We all have our space. Be mindful of the space they’re in and whose house they’re in.

“It’s not even my house, it’s Pele’s house. Just be mindful of the home they’ve entered, and I’ll do the same for theirs.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.