Hawaii environmental regulators shut down Kauai’s remote Polihale State Park indefinitely on Tuesday citing a slew of illegal camping and social distancing violations.

More than 1,000 people camped at Polihale on a recent weekend, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. But only 80 people had obtained the requisite camping permits, the DLNR said.

The State Parks Division of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources has shut down Kauai’s Polihale State Park indefinitely following an invasion of illegal campers and social distancing violations. Courtesy: Lesley Macpherson/DLNR

The agency said trucks were racing on the beach and driving through sand dunes, which contain Hawaiian burial sites and critically endangered plants.

The illegal activity also spurred numerous complaints about large gatherings and a lack of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a DLNR press release.

State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell said in a prepared statement that the decision to close the park was based on input from DLNR staff, law enforcement, health officials and west Kauai residents. He said the park is difficult to police due to its isolated location.

More state parks could face closure, Cottrell said, as the cash-strapped DLNR grapples with revenue loss from out-of-state visitors in the form of park entrance fees and camping permits.

DLNR reported that several other state parks have recently been subject to similar illegal activities, including illegal camping and large, late-night gatherings, theft and vandalism:

• Vandalism and theft at Akaka Falls State Park on Hawaii Island. The pump house was broken into and photovoltaic panels, a controller box and batteries were stolen. Cost to replace these items and repair: $37,700.

• Illegal gatherings at Kaena Point State Park on Oahu. In both the Makua-Keawaula (west) and Mokuleia (north) sections of the park, there have been reports of illegal drinking, littering, beach bonfires, burning of rubber tires and large numbers of illegal campers in a park unit with almost no sanitary facilities.

• Vandalism at Aiea Bay State Park on Oahu. Toilets, sinks, urinals and gates were destroyed by vandals, rendering the facilities completely inoperable. Estimated cost to replace and repair these items: $25,000.

• Illegal beach access in West Side Hawaii Island parks impacting endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals and pup at Kiholo State Park Reserve and Kekaha Kai State Park. Signs to curb the illegal access were damaged or destroyed within a week of installation. Illegal vehicle access continues unabated.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author