HAENA, Kauai — State park officials are putting the finishing touches on a new paid parking lot and visitor reception area at Haena State Park, which will thrust Kauai into the growing community of tourist destinations where it costs money to use facilities that have been free for generations.

At the same time, the Department of Land and Natural Resources has received approval to install parking pass vending machines at Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks on Kauai’s west side. The devices will be at turnouts and vista points on the highway that climbs up to Kokee and are expected to bring in $400,000 to $450,000 per year.

That may seem like a lot of money for parking of rental cars and tourist buses, until it also becomes known that as the parking facilities are installed — planned for later this year — the state is spending $6.3 million on various paving projects in the Waimea Canyon-Kokee highway corridor. 

Even with new, never before charged fees, net state expenditures for tourist access vastly outstrip the revenue that will be brought in by charging for parking.

There are no cost recovery figures for Haena because what’s happening there is actually more of a social experiment than a construction project. It will test the success of a plan — 20 years in the making — to cut in half the daily number of people who can visit Haena State Park and its acclaimed Kee and Makua (Tunnels) beaches and the Kalalau Trail.

The state will begin charging admission or parking fees at three of Kauai’s most popular state parks. In all of the Kauai projects, fees are waived for Hawaii residents, shifting the revenue burden exclusively to out-of-state visitors.

Kalalau trail in Haena State Park on Kauai is still closed. DLNR plans to dramatically reduce the number of people allowed each day on the famed North Shore trail. Allan Parachini/Civil Beat

Haena has been closed entirely since the major storms that struck the North Shore of Kauai beginning in April 2018. Originally, reconstruction of the park was a project that would be phased in over a number of years. However, the sudden availability of emergency recovery money after the storm disaster allowed the entire reconstruction project to proceed immediately. The park is due to reopen sometime in June.

In the new scheme to preserve the natural resources in Haena, the number of people allowed in will drop from 2,000 or more a day previously to just 1,000. Parking will be strictly limited, with reservations required, and a new shuttle system will start running in hopes of shifting most tourists out of their vehicles and onto public transportation.

The state will begin charging admission or parking fees for tourists at three of Kauai’s most popular state parks. 

At the Waimea Canyon and Kokee overlooks and parking lots, for example, individual admission will be $1 per person, or $5 per automobile and as much as $40 for a tour bus, according to figures provided by DLNR. The same fees will be charged at Haena.

New Fees Around The State

Until quite recently, Hawaii had been one of just seven states that did not charge admission fees to state parks. But as budgets have tightened in the last few years, fees have come to five visitor destinations on other islands and are due to be introduced at a sixth.

Currently, entry fees are charged at Diamond Head State Monument and parking charges are in place at Nuuanu Pali State Wayside on Oahu and at Iao Valley State Monument on Maui.  On Hawaii Island, there are entry fees at Akaka Falls State Park and parking fees at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area.

Parking fees have been authorized, but are not yet being charged, at Makena State Park on Maui.

“This is kind of the future,” said Alan Carpenter, assistant administrator of the DLNR’s state parks division.  “In the case of Haena, it’s a tool to help us manage impact. It’s a result of the unprecedented number of people who have been going to that park in recent years.”

“This isn’t just a ‘gouge the tourists’ thing. We need money to better manage our parks. It’s the way we’ve actually been going for a number of years. The (original permission to charge the fees) was granted by the Board of Land and Natural Resources in 2010. It’s just taken us awhile to get to the implementation phase.”

A construction crew rushes to complete new visitor facilities at Haena State Park. Allan Parachini

Kauai has been last to follow into the fee plan, Carpenter said, because of the island’s small size and rural environment. Its parks are not used as much as better-known attractions on other islands.

Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, said her agency is “aware that State Parks has been discussing proposed new user fees for the management of much of Kauai’s natural beauty.”

She said her agency is not opposed because “there are a lot of businesses making money off the state parks and it’s fair to ask them to comply with all necessary permits, as well as pay into the management of the parks they are using.”

Like Carpenter, Kanoho stressed that by adding admission and parking fees to its state parks, Hawaii is simply following national and international patterns that have seen attractions all over the world start charging user fees.

“It’s a common practice and I think our visitors would understand any reasonable new fees,” she said.

Until quite recently, Hawaii had been one of just seven states that does not charge admission fees to state parks.

Writer and environmental observer Jan TenBruggencate cautioned that the fees may also create expectations for better maintenance and improved overall visitor experiences in parks that tourists will now have to pay to use.

“This will help raise funds for maintenance, and those places over-loved will contribute to their own repair and recovery,” he said. “But there’s also an expectation that the places will be better maintained if you’re paying to go there.”

Thinning The Crowds At Haena State Park

At Haena, visitors will encounter a facility very different from the one they may recall.

In addition to a new parking lot, there will be a boardwalk leading over loi and through woods that border Kee beach. Because visitor attendance will be strictly capped at 1,000 people per day, the hordes of tourists flocking to the Kalalau Trail are likely to be substantially smaller, meaning the trail itself can be better maintained.

The days of pulling over to the side of the road, abandoning the rental car and striking out into the wilderness are, effectively, over at Haena.

No parking signs now dot the entire park, warning that visitors face $200 fines if they decide to disobey parking rules.

The new fine revenue will be split between the state and Kauai County and enforcement will be vigorous, according to park officials.

At the parking lots and overlooks for Waimea Canyon, one of the most popular draws on Kauai, out-of-state visitors will be charged $1 per person, or $5 per automobile, while tourists buses will pay as much as $40, according to figures provided by DLNR. Flickr: Prayitno / Thank you for (12

The days of pulling over to the side of the road, abandoning the rental car and striking out into the wilderness are, effectively, over at Haena.

There are no revenue projections for what the admission and parking fee schedule will generate at Haena.

A state parks spokesperson said “Haena is projected as a break-even proposition, given the low entry fees, restricted visitor numbers and the need to be conservative and not oversell parking capacity as we gather data in year one.”

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