Less popular area of Hawaii Volcanoes sees more activity

HILO (AP) — The closure of the main area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has prompted more people to visit the less-frequented Kahuku Unit, leading to more resources being directed into that area.

Most of the Big Island park closed in May because of the Kilauea volcano eruption, so officials extended the operating hours of the Kahuku Unit to five days each week, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Thursday.

About 350 people visited the unit in April before the eruption, according to the park. Nearly 4,500 people visited it in June.

“It’s actually nice because people are coming in not expecting to see lava,” Kahuku area manager Keola Awong said. “They’re just coming because they want to see the park.”

More resources have been directed for maintenance and other projects as a result of the higher visitation. The park has repaired and widened sections of the road leading into the area. It has removed brush from the roadsides and improved ditches. It has installed new gates at park entrances and new wheelchair-accessible ramps at park facilities.

A new trail opened and another one is in development, Awong said. The park hopes to complete a walking trail to the Forested Pit Crater by mid-September, she said.

Park officials have discussed opening the unit for seven days each week, but such a change will not occur anytime soon, if it’s decided, parks spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said.