Will access to the mauna be closed permanently?

This one is a new one, at least to me, this bit of misinformation started showing up just after Governor Ige’s press conference that announced the access road closure to allow construction equipment to be moved.

Loading Snow
Loading pickup trucks with snow for export from the mauna.

Why do I get the feeling shit will go down on Mauna Kea with TMT, which will give the authorities the excuse to execute their plan of shutting down the summit road to the public for good? Mountain access stolen….
(Isn’t that part of the new plan? Reducing public’s access? All they need is an excuse to do it sooner than later. What then?)

Demian Barrios, Facebook post, July 11, 2019

Having a good understanding of management to the mauna I know this one to be false. One need only read the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan, Public Access Subplan to know where the official stance on access is. These are the binding management plans for the mauna, and nowhere do these plans permit permanent restrictions on the public’s use of Mauna Kea. Quite the opposite, public and cultural access is to be specifically permitted.

Changing these plans, and changing the access rules requires a full rule making process and public hearings.

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Mauna Kea Rules Hearing

This evening was the local hearing for the proposed Mauna Kea Public Access Rules. As the hearing took place at Waikoloa School I had no excuse not to go, it is practically at the end of our street. Of course I was going to attend even if I had to drive across island, this is an issue that directly affects me.

An ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea
An ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea

And yes, I testified, attempting to summarize my three pages of written testimony in three minutes. I suspect I got the gist across in a clear fashion, I will submit my written testimony as well.

Other than myself the testifiers were completely drawn from the anti-telescope community. It is unfortunate that the issue has become so polarized that no other members of the community attended. Access to the mauna affects more than just the astronomy and anti-astronomy folks, this should be of interest to anyone who calls the island home.

As such many of the testifiers paid scant attention to the contents of the rules, instead of providing constructive input so much testimony was simply another protest against the Thirty Meter Telescope. Some form of rules need to be put in place with or without the new telescope.

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Examining the Proposed Mauna Kea Rules

The University of Hawaii and the Office of Mauna Kea Management have released the latest version of their proposed public access rules for Mauna Kea. Along with the release is an opportunity to comment on the new rules.

Mauna Kea seen at dawn from Mauna Loa
Mauna Kea seen at dawn from Mauna Loa

Public comment on the previously proposed rule package was so overwhelmingly negative that the university was forced to withdraw the rules for revision. As this is round two, shall we take a look at the revised public access rules?

These rules will govern all public and commercial access to the summit of Mauna Kea. As such these rules should be of intense interest of anyone who travels to Mauna Kea. All island residents should be made aware of the contents of these rules as the mauna belongs to all of those who live in its shadow.

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Mauna Kea Rules… Take 2

After last year’s debacle that occurred when trying to introduce administrative rules for public and commercial access to Mauna Kea, the University of Hawaii is back with a heavily revised version.

The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd
The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd

How bad were the original version of the rules? In many areas they seemed to be badly thought out, with language far too expansive. Even a cursory reading reveals that the rules were not reviewed by someone familiar with some of the technical language used. Many of the proposed rules would have created safety issues, or even devoid of common sense.

It does appear that they actually listened to the criticism that was received in written form and at the public hearings. Many of the complete gaffes have been removed or reasonably revised.

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To Play in the Snow

There are days when it seems like the entire island population comes to Mauna Kea. This is certainly the case on a snow day, the first day the road is open after a fresh snowfall will see a crowd of folks ascending to the summit to play in the snow.

Loading Snow
Loading pickup trucks with snow for export from the mauna.
This winter the snow came for Christmas, several feet of snow just before the holiday. MKSS was able to plow through the snowdrifts and open the road for the public on Christmas Eve. The result was predictable, hundreds drove up to the snow to enjoy a white Christmas.

One local tradition is the hauling of snow from the summit to the beach. On some days dozens of pickup trucks can be found on the summit, or filled with snow making their way down the mountain road. The snow will be the basis of parties and games on the beach or in green tropical lawns. Online you can find photos of snowmen under palm trees or snowball fights and smiling keiki on Hilo yards.

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Accessing the Summit of Mauna Kea Follow Up

Yesterday’s post stirred a blaze of comments over on Facebook, there are 50 shares and climbing fast. While there were those who took both sides of the sign, the majority seem to agree with the opinion I put forth in yesterday’s post. Most agree that the sign is inappropriate and quite possibly counterproductive.

Paul Hirst That sign annoys me, I think it’s ineffective at best, and very probably counterproductive. I too have hiked up there many times, but not since the sign appeared. Though to be honest and having given it more thought now, I don’t think the sign would stop me if I wanted to go again, though it may have dissuaded me in the past at times when I might otherwise have gone.

Summit Access
The sign asking for people to not hike to the true summit of Mauna Kea
The fundamental problem I have with it is that it’s completely un-enforceable, so it has the effect where now the people who do go are the ones who ignored the sign and thus perhaps less likely to respect other things like not disturbing things or leaving litter. Essentially, it reduces the number of people who go to the true summit and take care to have minimal impact on the land, and it has no impact on the number of people who will go up there and don’t care so much. So it just alienates the people who they ought to be befriending as allies in caring for the mountain.

Lynn Paul Richardson I respect cultural sites and always remain within designated walkways. This sign rings hollow to many people who would normally pause at that point.

A fair point was raised in considering the impact that foot traffic has on the summit… Erosion of the area could be an issue. Though I believe this could be mitigated with proper trail maintenance.

Matthew J D’Avella In my opinion people should stay off the true peak for several reasons. Erosion being my number one reason.

Quite a few have suggested that the sign be replaced with something that educates visitors to the importance of the site, request that the be respectful, and stay on the marked trail to minimize the impact to the area.

Chris Runnells Yeah I’m not sure I agree with that. The mountain is sacred to many people regardless of whether or not you’re of Hawaiian ancestry. It’s possible to go to the summit and be respectful without having Hawaiian blood. I think this sign should be replaced with a message to tread with care, pack out what you pack in, etc. I doubt it’s going to actually stop anyone.

I fully agree with different, better signage. This is an idea I should have thought of when writing yesterday’s post, my thanks to those who suggested it. I will probably compile the comments into a letter to Stuart at OMKM, maybe we can get the sign changed. My thanks to the many who commented on this, a productive discussion!

The kerfuffle has served to illustrate the issues that access to Mauna Kea exemplifies. This is a public land access issue. Do you set aside areas as off-limits to the public to appease a specific cultural group. Or should public land be open to everyone, the people of the State of Hawaii? Having had Hawaiian protesters yell at me “Get off our mountain!”, I have to push back. Mauna Kea belongs to all of us, we should care for it, but we can not close access to anyone like this.