Hikers may be taking the old trail to the summit of Haleakala for the first time in seven decades later this year following an agreement approved by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday in Honolulu.
The memorandum of agreement between state Department of Land and Natural Resources Forestry and Wildlife Division, the Na Ala Hele Trail & Access System and Haleakala Ranch, through which a part of the trail runs, calls for a minimum of two hiking events each year on the trail, which provided access to the summit until the opening of the current route in 1935.
The dates and times of the hikes will be determined by Haleakala Ranch in coordination with DLNR. The ranch and DLNR have the right to terminate and reschedule hikes within 60 days due to hazardous conditions, the document says.
This is one of the many rock cairns, or ahu, erected by the Territory of Hawaii in 1905 to guide people to the summit of Haleakala along the old trail. This photo was included in a report submitted by PATH, Public Access Trails Hawaii, objecting to a memorandum of agreement between the state and Haleakala Ranch for limited use of the old trail to the summit of Haleakala.
The DLNR and the ranch are working on an online application process, said department spokeswoman Deborah Ward on Tuesday. She indicated that the details need to be worked out and that there currently is no time frame for putting up the online application system.
Access will be granted to hikers only; no horses or vehicles will be allowed, the agreement said. The route for each hike will be determined by the ranch in coordination with the DLNR and will be led by a ranch or Na Ala Hele official.
The state also will indemnify the ranch.
"We're pleased" with the approval of the agreement, said Don Young, president and chief executive officer of Haleakala Ranch on Monday, noting that this is an "appropriate compromise" that's in "everyone's best interest."
Although the reservation system has yet to be set up by the DLNR, Young said that hikes could commence later this year. He added that the number of hikes permitted annually will depend on the demand.
He noted that the ranch and Na Ala Hele staff came up with a proposal in 2007 for managed access to the three-mile segment of the trail that begins in Piiholo and was likely used by Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, when he visited the crater in 1866.
In a letter in support of the agreement to Board of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William Aila, Young indicated that David Brown, who was a member of the Na Ala Hele Advisory Council for Maui at the time, opposed the proposed agreement.
Brown is president and a founding member of the nonprofit PATH, Public Access Trails Hawaii, which has filed a lawsuit in 2nd Circuit Court against the state and the ranch. PATH is asking that the court grant ownership of the trail to the state based on its historic use as a "public highway" and to open the trail to the public.
"This case is about requiring BLNR to follow its legislative mandate to protect public lands and obtaining respect from private landowners who deny public access over clearly public trails," Brown said in a news release from PATH.
Tom Pierce, attorney for the plaintiffs, said Monday that the lawsuit continues on track for a January trial, despite the memorandum of agreement.
"The MOA does not affect or change the state's obligations nor does the MOA . . . resolve the ownership (question)," he said, adding that the state did not give up its claims of ownership of the trail in the agreement.
In a news release, PATH reported that the state land board received written testimony from at least 60 people, almost all objecting to the agreement. They argued that the terms did not provide sufficient public access.
"In essence, DLNR's request is asking BLNR to abdicate its statutory duties and violate its own rules, including asking BLNR to put the rights of HRC (Haleakala Ranch Co.) ahead of the public's rights - something that has already been occurring for at least a decade." Pierce said in written testimony to the board.
The DLNR believes that the memorandum of agreement is the best option.
"The compromise approach is to provide occasional guided hikes without the need to do a fully developed trail system," a DLNR report to the board said. "In addition, this approach will also limit the landowner's costs and liabilities."
The department said that it is not in the public interest to litigate ownership of the trail because of cost. If the state took ownership of the trail, which runs through a cattle ranch and rough terrain with visibility sometimes shrouded in fog, "considerable state resources" would be required to upgrade and to maintain the trail for hikers.
Young concurred with the state's assessment of the safety issues, adding that the area is prone to flooding in gulch crossings, that parking and other facilities are not available at both ends of the trail within the ranch and that the entire area is pastureland for cattle, sheep, goats and guard dogs.
The area also is part of an invasive species management program to combat an infestation of gorse, he said. The program involves the use of heavy equipment for mulching and mowing and the application of herbicides, he said.
PATH challenged the safety concerns raised by the state and ranch, saying in its written testimony that the trail was engineered by the Territory of Hawaii to provide safe access for inexperienced tourists and that numerous public trails run through cattle ranches without problems.
* Lee Imada can be reached at email@example.com.
* Haleakala trail. A memorandum of agreement between the state and Haleakala Ranch will allow hikers to follow an old trail that once took people to the summit of Haleakala.
However, the trail that is being opened up through Haleakala Ranch land will not go all the way to the crater. The trail ends are at the end of Olinda Road and Haleakala Road, said state Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman Deborah Ward.
A story on Page A1 on Wednesday incorrectly described the trail route.
The Maui News apologizes for the errors.