Public Access to Mauna Kea

I think we can agree that the mountain is heavily used, visitor numbers have steadily increased over the past few years. The summit road is busy, particularly as sunset nears, a steady line of vehicles heading for the summit. During the recent discussions on the future of Mauna Kea, many have noted these increased numbers with dismay. Various suggestions have been floated to reduce the numbers of people on the mountain, but there are problems with any changes.

The recent extended closure of the summit road and visitor center has brought this issue into sharp focus. Comments by various parties including Governor Ige and TMT protesters reveal very different visions for access to Mauna Kea.

Watching a Mauna Kea Dawn
A pair of visitors watch dawn atop Mauna Kea
I admit a personal agenda here, I go to the mountain regularly for several different reasons. Sometimes to enjoy the dark skies with a telescope, sometimes leading group excursions for our local astronomy club, other times to simply photograph the beauty of this place. Even though my duties as a an observatory engineer include going to the summit a couple times each week, I find myself in the high country of Mauna Kea regularly for other reasons.

Why are the numbers increasing? Those responsible for caring for our mountain, the Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) have done nothing to encourage visitors to the mountain. Actually they often attempt to discourage visitation. The basic legal framework for management of the mountain is the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan1, there is a a sub-plan specifically addressing public use of Mauna Kea. A stated goal in the document is to control visitor numbers.

Public activities will be encouraged at lower elevations in order to limit traffic to the summit region, protect public safety and health, and minimize human impacts on cultural and natural resources. – MKCMP Public Access Plan 1

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