Tourists visit Hawaii volcano park despite federal shutdown

HILO (AP) — Tourists are still visiting Kilauea volcano despite the partial closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park amid the ongoing government shutdown.

Services in the national park have been curtailed due the shutdown, but the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Monday that businesses are still seeing plenty of visitors.

The park’s Chain of Craters Road is closed, essentially leaving the steam vents, sulphur banks and a nearby crater overlook as the only accessible attractions.

“It’s barely open, but it’s still open,” said Ira Ono, owner of Volcano Garden Arts and Cafe Ono, of the park. “As long as that’s happening, we’re OK.”

The eruption on Kilauea earlier this year prompted the closure of the main park area at the summit for 134 days.

The effects of that event can still be viewed near the steam vents, where about 50 people were gathered on the caldera rim Saturday.

Dan and Sharon Parker of Atlanta said they were enjoying their visit.

“I just don’t know enough to know what we’re missing, I guess,” said Dan Parker. “This is very unique.”

As most of the park is closed, limited parking means visitors are cramming into the few areas still accessible. Some parked on curbs or on grass areas near the visitor center, where one vehicle was stuck in the mud.

Federal officials said in a statement that the park will remain as accessible as possible during the shutdown. The park previously closed completely during a brief shutdown in January 2018 and for about two weeks in 2013.

With much of the park staff furloughed, there also is no one to collect entrance fees.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is also being affected by the shutdown. Tina Neal, the office’s scientist-in-charge, said they are operating with a “skeleton crew” of eight scientists, who are working without pay.

That’s enough, she said, to keep tabs on any changes within Kilauea or Hawaii’s other volcanoes.

“We are looking at the data everyday,” Neal said. “If anything catches our eye, we will follow up.”