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Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story identified the Diamond Head certificate salesman as Chris “Chico” Gomez. In fact, his name is Christopher P. Barclay and we learned later that he had not given us his true name. This story has been updated throughout to reflect his real name.
Christopher Barclay has managed to infuriate and elude enforcement from Diamond Head park authorities for more than a decade.
Barclay sells “I climbed Diamond Head” certificates to visitors who have huffed and puffed up to the Diamond Head summit. Some visitors think Barclay is an official state park ranger and eagerly snap up his phony “official” certificates at $5 apiece.
State officials say Barclay’s business is illegal, violating state park rules by selling merchandise from a place where private commerce is prohibited. He is also in direct competition with the stateʻs official gift shop at Diamond Head, where part of the proceeds from similar certificates are used to maintain the park.
He claims “it is my First Amendment right” to sell the certificate and says two previous citations against him were dismissed.
Barclay hates being asked about his operation. Ask too many questions and he will start yelling so loud that other hikers will beg him to stop. That happened to me Friday when I hiked up to the summit to check out his operation.
“Please stop. You are ruining our experience. We are trying to enjoy this place. Leave her alone. She hasn’t done anything,” two hikers repeatedly said to Barclay while he shouted at me.
Longtime hiker Libby Char and Kirk McCarthy, the state park caretaker assigned to Diamond Head, also say Barclay has aggressively confronted them, too.
“He should follow the rules like everyone else,” said Char. “If he is exercising his free speech rights he should get a permit to deliver his message in the special section set aside near the trailhead for free speech.”
Clark Hatch, president of the East Diamond Head Association and a member of the Diamond Head State Monument Foundation, has a blunter view. “He is a bandit,” Hatch said. “We have been trying to get rid of him for years. He has no legal right to sell certificates.”
“It seems so ridiculous and pathetic that the state has not been able to chase him out. He is just playing games with us.”
The State Parks Division, which manages the Diamond Head Monument, says it will launch a new plan soon to halt what they consider Barclay’s illegal operation.
The stateʻs plan is to send a sales person from its official store up to the Diamond Head summit to sell merchandise in direct competition with Barclay.
“It is our sincere hope that the direct competition and ‘official’ designation of our vendor will drive the illegal vendors out,” said Alan Carpenter, assistant administrator for the state Parks Division.
Thatʻs in the taxpayers’ interest because over the years Barclay’s sales have poached money the state could have collected from sales of its own official “I climbed Diamond Head” certificates, which are sold for $2.50 at the state’s gift store at the trailhead. The state runs the store in partnership with the nonprofit Pacific Historic Parks, with 12 percent of the gross revenue from sales going directly to benefit Diamond Head.
Carpenter says past efforts such as staff admonishments, putting up signs to warn visitors not to buy from unauthorized sellers and even slapping vendors with citations have failed.
“The vendors know the rules, and would never solicit a sale in front of an enforcement officer. The only way to cite therefore is with an undercover operation, which we’ve done in the past,” says Carpenter. “It hasn’t made the problem go away. I think out-competing them may be the only practical and effective method.“
Over the years, park staffers have had frequent unpleasant interactions with Barclay and other illegal vendors, he said.
“The interactions more often than not have become confrontational, even devolving into shouting matches which can greatly diminish the experience for visitors witnessing it and puts staff who frequently work alone in a volatile situation,” said Carpenter.
Barclay said he has been cited twice by the state, but his attorney got him off the hook each time.
Attorney Jack Schweigert said that he represented Barclay more than 10 years ago and remembers prevailing in court with a First Amendment defense.
Nearly a million people visit Diamond Head crater annually, providing Barclay a big potential customer base.
Barclay yells out to visitors, “Aloha folks. Get your finisher stamp. Shows you did it. Your donations help me pick up trash.”
Excited and proud of their accomplishment, the visitors buy lots of his “I climbed Diamond Head” certificates. While I watched on Friday, he sold five certificates in less than 15 minutes.
Thatʻs good money when considering that he is selling for about six hours each day. The transactions are all in cash and there is very little overhead. I could not determine if he is paying excise tax and income tax on what he earns.
A customer who bought a certificate from Barclay told me, “Itʻs a nice souvenir to take home.”
Barclay doesnʻt pretend to give the money to a charity. Barclay says all the cash he collects goes directly into his pocket “to pay me for my time cleaning up the trail.”
He says park authorities are grateful to him because he brings down two large bags of trash from the trail each day.
But park caretaker McCarthy says thatʻs a lie.
“He does not pick up trash on the trail or help us in any shape or form,” says McCarthy. “If he really wanted to help he would sign a waiver and pitch in to clean up Diamond Head like other park volunteers.”
Tom Moore has hiked up to the Diamond Head summit every day for the last five years. He calls Barclay “a thorn in my side.”
“Itʻs a disappointment that the guy is up there. Itʻs a shame. Itʻs a blight, ” said Moore, an adjunct computer science professor at Kapiolani Community College.
Moore says he hopes the stateʻs plan to send its own vendor up to the summit to compete with Barclay is successful. But he worries for the safety of the vendor.
“If Chris thinks his ability to make a living is threatened I imagine he will get confrontational. He has a very volatile personality,” Moore said.
Carpenter hopes the new plan will curtail the violations but admits, “it will not be the end-all” because illegal sales are “simply too lucrative.”