WAILUA – State conservation officers wrote a slew of tickets to Wailua Falls this summer, according to new incident data from the State Department of Lands and Natural Resources.
The popular viewing area at the end of Ma’alo Road north of Lihu’e has an unofficial trail leading to the base of the falls. Signs warn people to stay off dangerous trails.
But that doesn’t stop recreationists from bypassing warning signs and site fences to walk the often muddy path leading to the pool below. Thirteen people, including a family of five in Utah, have been cited as having entered the closed area from May through August. All but one of the individuals named were out-of-state visitors.
Such incursions can be dangerous. In July, a 67-year-old Californian fell 25 feet from the trail, apparently with a head injury. He was taken to Wilcox Medical Center after a two-hour rescue operation involving police, fire and ambulance services.
“The trail is closed and people should not enter the area through the barriers in place,” Kaua’i Fire Chief Steven Goble told The Garden Island. “This puts them and our rescue teams in extreme danger. “
There have been five rescue calls in Wailua Falls so far this year. There were none in 2020 due to the low volume of visitors resulting from travel restrictions linked to COVID-19. Four emergency appeals were launched in 2019.
Alan Carpenter, deputy administrator of the DLNR division of state parks, didn’t mince words when asked for comment.
“The Wailua Falls Trail does not exist,” Carpenter said. “It has never been closed because it has never been opened.
A legal and licensed trail requires planning, environmental and cultural compliance, study, design and construction that meet recognized standards. None of these steps took place in Wailua Falls and apparently never will.
“State parks would not go out of their way to create a trail along a route that is too dangerous for the average person,” Carpenter said.
The viewing area would also not be able to meet the parking demand associated with a dedicated trailhead, due to the lack of suitable state-owned land. According to Carpenter, the “minimum number” of existing parking spaces at the site is within the control of the state Department of Transportation and is intended for vehicles making brief stops to view the falls.
Authorities attribute the chronic illegal trips to Wailua Falls to social media and websites that promote the site as a hiking destination. Indeed, a brief internet search returns blog posts and web pages providing instructions on how to do the trek.