For years a self-appointed pitchman hawked $5 for “I climbed Diamond Head” certificates to folks who arrived sweating and breathing heavily at the summit.
The 1940s-era Kahala tunnel leading into the crater is narrow and dark, a “death trap” that poses a danger from vehicles passing inches away from pedestrians and from falling rocks.
Visitors at the Diamond Head summit enjoy views on a beautiful day. But it is taking a big toll on the lookout.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
And yet, the lure of Leahi (the Hawaiian name for Diamond Head is said to come from Hiiaka, sister of fire goddess Pele’s; it means “brow of the tuna”) is such that more than 1 million people a year flock to the site, making it the No. 5 most-visited attraction in the islands.
Open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day including holidays, the entrance fee is a mere $1 for pedestrians and $5 per car. (For cars that can find parking, that is. The lot is often full.)
The payoff for those reaching the summit from an .8 mile hike that rises 560 feet from the crater floor is a panoramic view from Waianae to Koko Head.
“Amazing views, some great exercise and well worth the effort,” a visitor from New Jersey posted on a TripAdvisor review earlier this month.
“Wrap your head around the fact that you can hike around inside a volcano,” a California traveler wrote.
And yet, there is also a possible real disaster awaiting those who summit the summit, one that could result in global headlines deterring future visitors.
The monument’s concrete-and-rebar lookout is falling apart, and it appears to be only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed while taking smart phone video a full 360 degrees.
Scores of hikers ascend Diamond Head just before the tunnels near the summit.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
In fact, it is Diamond Head’s very popularity that has hastened the lookout’s demise. Had park officials moved much earlier to mitigate the potential crisis at the lookout — it was built by the U.S. Army 111 years ago as a fire control station — we likely would not have to raise the concern now.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which administers state parks, is aware of the problem. DLNR is trying to find the money to tear down the most dangerous parts of the structure.
Here’s a thought: Why not have the Hawaii Tourism Authority and its contractors pay immediately for the maintenance and repair work?
The HTA has long promoted Diamond Head on its gohawaii.com website. The state agency is no doubt well aware of the convoy of visitor vans, trolleys and buses from Waikiki hotels that disgorge hordes of people at the crater every day. How much of the commercial fees, ranging from $10 a vehicle to $40, go to the monument directly?
To its credit, the HTA has for many years recognized the need to keep up the attractions that are worn down by as many as 10 million visitors annually to the state, not to mention local foot traffic.
Just last week the HTA’s Aloha Aina program — funded through taxes levied on tourist lodging — increased by 20% the number of nonprofit and government groups that work to manage and protect our natural and cultural resources.
In July, the HTA’s Na Ala Hele Trail and Access System was granted $530,000 for an assessment of 128 sanctioned trails covering 825 miles. As HTA’s director of cultural affairs said in a news report, the idea is to reinvest tourism dollars to maintain and preserve the very places they are flocking to see.
Diamond Head needs more than money, however. It needs support from the people who use and revere it. For starters, hotels and tour companies that promote Diamond Head as a visitor experience should charge a nominal fee to those guests riding the bus to the monument with the money earmarked for a fund dedicated for repairs. Or maybe those hotels and companies that are taking advantage of the monument as an attraction for guests should pitch in and help pay for repairs and maintenance.
Take a few minutes to answers DLNR’s Division of State Parks survey intended to lead to enhancement of the visitor experience through implementation of its master plan. One of the choices should be “fix the crumbling infrastructure.”
Real change can happen at Diamond Head. Just two years ago, for example, the state Department of Defense moved to demolish outdated buildings in the crater and turn over land to the state.
As many in Hawaii know, Diamond Head got its name from Western sailors and traders who mistook calcite crystals in the rocks on the slope of the crater for diamonds. The crystals had no value, but the value of preserving Diamond Head today is incalculable.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, John Hill and Jessica Terrell. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.