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Iao Valley State Monument reopening pushed to mid-July

People walk past private-property signs and a locked gate Wednesday afternoon to hike up to Iao Valley State Monument after parking their cars at Kepaniwai Park. The state park’s reopening has been delayed until mid-July after flooding inflicted massive damage in September. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

The reopening of Iao Valley State Monument has been pushed to mid-July while crews put the finishing safety touches on the flood-altered park, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Facilities at the popular attraction have undergone cleaning, repairs and stabilization since rain and flooding damaged the park and forced it to close in September. While more work needs to be done, the State Parks Division “decided on a short reopening to accommodate the summer season for residents and visitors,” according to the DLNR.

Now, the State Parks Division is getting bids to restripe the parking area and install fencing to keep the public from walking over the edge of the steep cliff above the stream, state parks administrator Curt Cottrell said Tuesday. Workers recently sprayed 410 feet of shotcrete to reinforce the exposed dirt cliff.

Now that the cliff’s been stabilized, Cottrell said that buses should be able to enter the parking lot. Officials had uncertainty over whether the lot would be big and stable enough for buses to drive through, especially since vehicles would need to stay 30 feet away from the guardrail along the edge of the lot. During a February meeting on Maui, Cottrell explained that vehicle access “could be substantially different” once the park reopened.

“The bus access is being substantially reduced and modified due to weight restrictions within a new, 30-foot setback from the now-modified cliff area,” he said. “Cars will be allowed to park where the buses previously parked, and two buses at a time — possibly on a modified schedule that must be worked out — will be allowed to parallel park above the previous bus parking area and dislodge patrons.”

A locked gate and signs block the road to Iao Valley State Monument on Wednesday. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Meanwhile, road signs and closed gates have not deterred people from hiking into the park grounds or trying to drive up the road, frustrating law enforcement and valley residents who deal with a stream of cars clogging up the bridge.

The county-run Kepaniwai Park, which lost a chunk of its parking lot to flooding, reopened in April. On Wednesday, dozens of people could be seen walking through Kepaniwai, past the Nature Conservancy and up toward Iao Valley State Monument. A security guard said he once counted almost 85 cars trying to drive to to the park in one day. Since school let out for the summer, it’s gotten worse, he said.

The DLNR has warned that trespassing in the closed park carries a punishment of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

While residents and visitors may get to enjoy the stream and views of the Iao Needle soon, the park may have to reclose later this year for more work. Permits are pending to install a rock-and-concrete base to help stabilize the slope, and the DLNR also plans to add 50 feet of shotcrete and stabilization work below the Hawaiian Garden. The department expects to get permits around August or September and plans to do construction in October or November. Iao Valley State Monument will need to close for two months.

Since lawmakers cut the State Parks Division’s request from $12 million in capital improvement project funding to $3 million, the Iao Valley project team needs to consider different options for permanent stabilization work, Cottrell said. Officials will meet with the community to discuss any permanent plans.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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