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Haleakala park visitor count down 6.1% in 2018

Trend continues into the first two months of 2019

Visitors to Haleakala National Park declined about 6 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, according to National Park Service data. This photo was taken last summer looking down at the Haleakala Visitor Center parking lot at 9,740 feet. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Visitors to Haleakala National Park fell 6.1 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year, with park officials attributing the declines to “regular fluctuations in visitors.”

Last year’s total of 1,044,084 visitors was the second straight year of declines and was 151,168 fewer visitors than 2016, according to National Park Service data.

The trend has continued into the first two months of the year with total visits through February down 5.7 percent. The most visitors since 1960 was 1,963,187 in 1999, park service data show.

“The park attributes the decline to regular fluctuations in visitation,” said Andrew Munoz, acting chief of public and congressional affairs for the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service.

There have been some general factors “that may have weighed heavier” in recent years, such as visitors changing plans due to the eruption that closed Hawaii Volcanoes National Park last year, the closure of the Pools of Oheo in the Kipahulu District for almost two years due to a rock slide (the pools reopened in December) and general travel issues, such as the prices of airfares, Munoz said.

Worldwide national park visits have been flat since 2016, which aligns to the overall decline in consumer spending at national parks. In 2017, Haleakala visitors spent $69,751 and 98.7 percent of that spending was by nonlocal visitors.

The Summit District implemented a sunrise reservation system in February 2017. Between 3 and 7 a.m, those seeking to see the sunrise atop Haleakala need to make a reservation for one of the 150 parking slots and pay $1.50. Before the reservation system was put in place, it was not uncommon to see more than 300 vehicles at the summit for popular sunrise viewing.

Munoz said that sunrise reservation “could have had a limited impact,” but it appears that overall daily visitation is not affected.

“We believe that those who don’t get into sunrise appear to be coming later in the day as we have seen an increase in visitation in the late morning,” he said.

The federal government shutdown from Dec. 22 to Jan. 25 may have depressed 2018 totals during the busy holiday season. There were 22,600 fewer visitors to Haleakala in December 2018 compared to 2017.

During the shutdown, visitors were allowed access for free to the Summit and Kipahulu districts. The sunrise reservation access system was operating.

No backcountry permits were being approved, and visitor interpretation and volunteer activities were suspended.

* Managing Editor Lee Imada contributed to this report. Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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