State officials say it will take about $2.1 million in capital improvements to help transition Kiholo State Park Reserve to a wilderness park, and estimate annual operating, maintenance costs at about $555,000.
Permit revenues from the park, once a small number of new camping sites are established, will likely provide only a small portion of the costs, about $30,000 annually.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources released on Thursday its finding of no significant impact for the park’s master plan, noting that if funding for the improvements and five full-time staff — a park manager, two park rangers, a general laborer and a caretaker — was not available, the department may have to close the park to even the limited activities currently available.
“The park rangers will act as a liaison between visitors and park resources, ensuring the development and implementation of the programs outlined in this Master Plan,” the final environmental assessment said. “Park rangers will have park-wide responsibilities, balancing their focus between areas of intensive human activity such as campsites and parking areas, with regular patrols of undeveloped areas and trails in more remote sections of the park. Their presence is absolutely essential in a park that is as large, and sparsely populated with users as Kiholo, and if funding shortfalls prevent the Division (of state Parks) from providing adequate numbers it should consider restricting public access until such time as funding is returned to adequate levels.”
The 4,300-acre state park runs about 8 miles along the Kona coastline. It is a popular camping site, but state officials in their master plan indicated their desire to keep it as undeveloped as possible.
“The relatively pristine, wide-open natural spaces which the park encompasses will be protected and enhanced to the extent practicable, with recreational uses limited to passive uses compatible with an untouched natural environment, such as hiking, camping, and beach-going,” the assessment said. “Access to many areas of the park will remain unimproved or be carefully managed for low impact, with minimal modification to the landscape. This is intended to provide contrast with the continued and increasing development in the Kona region, allowing residents and visitors to enjoy an environment which is timeless and emphasizes the solace and beauty of an untouched, endemic Hawaiian wilderness.”
The end goal is a state wilderness park. One way to achieve that goal, the report said, is continuing the relationship with Hui Aloha Kiholo, a stewardship group that has been working in the park for several years. The assessment noted that if that group, or other volunteer organizations are unable to continue their work, a subsidy of about $100,000 would be needed.
Hui Aloha Kiholo “has brought expertise, commitment, dedicated citizenship, and other resources to the effort that would not otherwise have been available,” the assessment said.
The biggest capital expense for the project is relocating the park entrance from Queen Kaahumanu Highway. That $750,000 project will entail building a new section of unpaved road from the scenic lookout southwest, across a section of pahoehoe lava, then joining with the existing park access road. State Department of Transportation officials indicated to DLNR staff they would be open to the possibility, the report said.
The report noted that despite the proposed wilderness designation, the park is “neither remote nor untouched by development. … Kiholo State Park is a place where residents and visitors can come to connect with the natural elements of sun, water, wind, lava, and the living plants and animals that comprise Kiholo’s most precious heritage. Also, the large park size allows opportunities for the experience of solace and separation from nearby urban development, which is an essential part of a wilderness experience.”
The length of camping permits and the number of campsites will be contingent on available park resources and personnel, officials said. Camping facilities will be minimally improved, with only cleared and leveled space for tents, a fire ring and/or barbecue, toilets and a nearby dumpster-type receptacle, except where necessary to accommodate disabled campers.
Day visitors will be allowed access to the existing parking area on the park’s southern side during daylight hours. The plan includes a proposal to create a dozen “behind-the-beach” campsite locations along the southern part of the park. Users would not be allowed to access the camps from the beach side, but from parking spaces off the existing access road.
Officials are also considering developing the “bluewater trail” concept, which would allow for a coastal water trail. It would make possible camping areas that are only accessible by kayaks and canoes.