Riding the success of new state park crowd controls, residents want to extend the parking management system to the nearby county park.


Since Kauai’s Haena State Park debuted new crowd control measures in mid-2019, it’s been touted as a case study in how to stave off overtourism.

Yet while the new regulations have cleared up crowds and competition for parking stalls at the state park, they haven’t completely resolved these problems. They’ve merely kicked them down the road. 

Roughly 200 daily visitors shut out by the new crowd controls find new places to congregate, increasing the swarms of travelers at beaches where visitor management is less intensive or nonexistent.

Now residents who helped drive the success of the state park’s daily visitor cap, advanced reservation shuttle system and heightened parking enforcement want to bring these tools to a nearby county beach park that’s suffering from the same issues that once plagued the state park.

High desirability coupled with a shortage of parking stalls has made Kauai’s Makua Beach, also known as Tunnel’s Beach, difficult to access. (Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2017)

Located less than a mile from the similarly named state park, the county-owned Haena Beach Park is the main access point to Makua Beach, a blue-green seascape used to market Hawaii as a tourism destination to travelers worldwide. Prized for its expansive reef, strong surf, underwater lava tubes and striking views of the pyramid-shaped mountain named Makana, the Hawaiian word for “the gift,” the beach is the stomping grounds of local families, surfers and fishermen. It’s also a tourism hotspot.

With fewer than 40 parking stalls fronting the main beach access, anyone who ventures there for a visit is essentially playing a game of parking lot roulette.

“It’s such an incredibly special place,” said Joel Guy, executive director of The Hanalei Initiative, the nonprofit that operates the advanced reservation shuttle system at Haena State Park. “Now imagine if you could pull up and enjoy a jump in the water and lay out, or go fishing, at any time. That’s not how it is for residents today, but that’s how it used to be. And we’re optimistic that’s going to be the future.”

Illegally parking cars along Kuhio Highway is a result of high demand coupled with too-few parking stalls at the county-owned Haena Beach Park. (Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2023)

One way to reclaim easier access for Kauai residents is spelled out as a future goal in the Haena State Park Master Plan, the document that guided the transformation of the state park from an overtourism disaster to what officials now tout as the blueprint for better visitor management.

Transferring the ownership of Haena Beach Park from the county to the state, supporters of the proposal say, would seamlessly allow the state to absorb the site into its already successful visitor management system.

The idea has been batted around for years. It gained new momentum last week when Gov. Josh Green joined lawmakers, Haena community members and state and county parks and tourism officials at Haena State Park to mark the success of its four-year-old reservation management system.

To reach the state park, attendees of the event first had to pass by the county park, where a line of stalled cars waiting for a parking spot spilled out into the main road, snarling traffic. Elsewhere, illegally parked cars cluttered the road.

Residents say the line of cars vying for a parking spot at Haena Beach Park sometimes spills onto the highway, causing traffic delays. (Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2023)

A key component of a better-managed Haena Beach Park would be a resident-only parking area, said Chipper Wichman, who contributed over many years to the development of new protocols to address overcrowding at the state park up the road.

It may take new legislation to establish a resident-only parking zone, Wichman said. But it’s a tool that every county grappling with overtourism is going to want to have, he said.

The proposed beach park transfer would require approval from the Kauai County Council and the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, Wichman said.

But before any approvals come, there are details to be worked out. Would the county continue to fund the lifeguard station at the beach? Would the state be able to access enough funding to staff the park? Could the county implement better visitor management at the park without relinquishing ownership?

“Covid woke everybody up to what life is like without 10 million visitors,” Wichman said. “We’re realizing now that there is an alternative and let’s employ the tools that can allow us to regain some quality of life.”

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