New crowd control and parking enforcement measures at Haena could help bring special places back into balance statewide.

Until recently, the average daily visitor count at Kauai’s Haena State Park was 3,000, making it as notorious for crowds and traffic as for its celebrated end-of-the-road lagoon. 


For decades residents here felt edged out. Enough was enough when the lone residential road that feeds into the park had grown so littered with illegally parked cars that emergency responders couldn’t pass through.

A redesigned Haena State Park debuted in mid-2019, boasting experimental crowd control measures, such as a 900-person daily visitor cap, an advanced reservation shuttle system and increased law enforcement. Officials say Haena has since become a case study in how to stave off over-tourism, not only for the benefit of local residents and the delicate natural resources but for the enjoyment of the tourists themselves. 

On Thursday the state enacted a new tool to further bolster Haena’s community-led, government-supported park stewardship system when Gov. Josh Green signed a bill into law that grants the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources the flexibility to enter into longterm contracts with place-based nonprofits to operate parking reservations and concessions at certain state parks.

Haena State Park offers swimming at Kee Beach, as well as views of restored taro fields, ancient sea caves and access to the 11-mile Kalalau Trail. Newer access rules aim to prevent environmental and cultural degradation and ease the impact of overtourism. (Courtesy: DLNR/2019)

Haena State Park is the proving ground for such cooperative agreements, illustrating how a unique collaboration between the DLNR and the nonprofit Hui Maka‘ainana o Makana can boost revenue for the state parks special fund while creating dozens of new jobs for local people.

New crowd control measures modeled after those in Haena have already been implemented at Waianapanapa State Park on Maui, Diamond Head State Monument on Oahu and Iao Valley State Monument on Maui. The Big Island’s Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park is in the early stages of developing a tourism management system based on the success story at Haena.

DLNR Chairwoman Dawn Chang said the agency is seeking other communities who want to work hard and work collaboratively with state government to address overtourism hotspots.

Hui Maka‘ainana o Makana won a revocable permit, subject to annual renewal, to manage the parking, online reservation system and shuttle system at Haena State Park in July 2021. Now, with the passage of Act 72, the hui can enter into a more stable 10-year contract with the state to further its efforts to manage overcrowding, congestion, degradation of resources and safety hazards at the park.

“This is our destination management example,” said Green, standing under a pop-up shade tent nestled against restored taro fields that feed the community. “This is really the translation of what we said we wanted to do, what people ask us to do. And here it is. It creates resources to help with visitor capacity and it regulates our use of this space in a way that is sane. That is really what it comes down to.”

Gov. Josh Green signed HB 1183 into law at Haena State Park on Thursday to unwind some of the red tape that can complicate government partnerships with community nonprofits at certain state parks. Pictured from left, Sen. Lorraine Inouye; Kelii Alapai, a subsistence fisherman who grew up in Haena; Rep. Nadine Nakamura; and Chipper Wichman, founding board member of Hui Maka‘ainana O Makana. (Courtesy: DLNR/2023)

It’s the fourth piece of legislation in recent years introduced by Kauai Rep. Nadine Nakamura that was inspired by Haena’s overtourism disaster. Each has statewide implications.

The first bill hiked fines from $35 to $235 for illegal parking in newly established no parking zones on state highways, a mechanism to get visitors out of their cars and onto a group shuttle. Normally the state alone benefits from traffic fine revenues. But the bill allows half of the fine proceeds to stay in the county where the citation took place.

A dynamic pricing bill allows state parks to increase entry and parking fees based on seasonal demand without having to go through the laborious rulemaking process.

Another piece of legislation grants county police chiefs the ability to hire civilians to issue citations for parking infractions on state highways. This frees up police officers for more urgent police work. Kauai County has so far hired one employee to issue parking tickets islandwide.  

Thursday’s bill-signing event also marked the release of a handbook on reversing the ill effects of overtourism. The 60-page digital booklet edited by Nakamura and Chipper Wichman, founding board member of Hui Maka‘ainana O Makana, describes the problems and solutions mapped out in the Haena State Park Master Plan, with recommendations from key people involved in the project for other communities to consider. 

“This is tailor written for the hui and Haena, but I can import and export this model to Kealakekua because it’s the same recipe: lineal descendants, narrow road, limited parking, very, very important cultural and natural resources, historic resources,” said Curt Cottrell, administrator of DLNR’s Division of State Parks.

Gov. Josh Green holds a page from the newly published playbook, “The Transformation of Haena State Park: A Case Study On How To Manage A Visitor Hotspot.” (Courtesy: DLNR/2023)

Other communities that have showed an interest in partnering with government to improve state park management include Ahupuaa O Kahana State Park on Oahu and Polihale State Park on Kauai.

Implementing the Haena model elsewhere in the state takes not only collaboration with community members but vast data collection. How many people visit the park on a typical day? How long do they stay? What are the traffic patterns?

“There’s this perception that you could stand up a reservation system and plug it in and turn it on and light up all the state parks with advanced reservations,” Cottrell said. “And it really doesn’t work that way. We’re doing destination management pretty much one park at a time, methodically and slowly, and that’s why it’s working.”

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