WAILUKU - The state is asking a 2nd Circuit Court judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed in January by Public Access Trails Hawaii-Maui.
The hikers' group wants the courts to force Haleakala Ranch and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to reopen public portions of a horse trail that was used to reach Haleakala Crater until a road to the summit was opened in 1935. The trail runs from the top of Olinda to the Haleakala Crater rim.
In a motion for the dismissal filed last week, Deputy Attorney General William Wynhoff says Public Access Trails' complaint should be dismissed because it lacks standing to force the state to assert a public claim of ownership of the trail.
A fence at the top of Olinda Road marks the beginning of a trail that had been used to reach Haleakala Crater before a road to the summit was opened in 1935. Public Access Trails Hawaii-Maui has sued Haleakala Ranch and the state to force the reopening of the trail, which has been closed to public access.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
"Plaintiffs file this suit because the state has not filed a quiet title action to resolve a dispute between the state and Haleakala Ranch Co.," Wynhoff writes in his motion.
(A "quiet title" is a lawsuit brought in court to establish a party's title to the property, thus "quieting" other claims of ownership.)
"With all due respect, plaintiffs do not run the executive branch of the State of Hawaii. Plaintiffs do not have the right, either directly or through this court, to dictate which disputes the state should expend its limited resources on and how disputed issues should be addressed or settled," Wynhoff writes.
He said the essence of the nonprofit group's claim is that it wants a judgment quieting title of the trail in favor of the state.
"But the plaintiffs cannot bring a quiet title claim for two reasons," he said. "First, the quiet title statute restricts quiet title actions to persons who own or claim to own property. Second, there is no state waiver of sovereign immunity for a claim by a stranger to title."
The nonprofit Public Access Trails wants the state to accept and manage the trail for the public's benefit.
According to a news release from the nonprofit, the group has identified a number of documents showing that in the early 1900s, the territory of Hawaii budgeted and expended government funds to survey and improve the trail to make it an easier route for tourists.
The group's complaint also points to state documents showing that a number of state employees have, over the last decade, written a number of internal opinions concluding that Haleakala Trail is a public trail owned by the state.
"Haleakala Ranch has denied public access for over 70 years," said Dave Brown, a founding board member of the nonprofit. "How long does the state expect us to wait before it decides to take action? We have a right to walk this trail during our lifetime."
The group says the trail was a traditional path to the crater for Native Hawaiians, and it was later adopted as a path by others.
"Before the opening of the Haleakala Highway, thousands of tourists and other adventure seekers, including historical figures such as writer Mark Twain and woman explorer and writer Isabella Bird reached the top of the crater via Haleakala Trails," the group says.
In a letter to The Maui News, Brown said the state, not Haleakala Ranch, owns the trail.
"Why should we permit a private corporation to use a state thoroughfare and deny the public access?" he asked.
Brown said the state should be protecting the public's right to its lands, not permitting the ranch "to continue squatting on state land."
"One is right and will nurture life; the other is most certainly wrong and will kill our spirit," he said.
The group's complaint calls the trail "one of the most culturally, historically and recreationally important trails" on Maui. Its lower reaches are now Piiholo and Olinda roads. From the top of Olinda Road, it passes onto Haleakala Ranch land.
The group's lawsuit seeks to regain public access to 3.3 miles of the trail up to the lower boundary of Haleakala National Park.
Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said her department usually has no comment on pending litigation.
Don Young, president of Haleakala Ranch, declined comment on the case Monday.
A hearing on the motion to dismiss the complaint has been scheduled for 8:30 a.m. May 11 in 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza's courtroom.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.