KAHULUI — The Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) today authorized the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to seek bids to conduct an archaeological inventory survey (AIS) and environmental review (EA) necessary to explore a proposed land exchange agreement between the state and Haleakala Ranch that that the department believes will ensure public access to a disputed hiking trail, and create a new access route to two large forest reserves on the leeward slope of Haleakala.
The Land Board made clear that it was approving further study of the proposed transaction only and that it would decide on the merits only after this further study with appropriate public input is completed. The Land Board declined at this time to also authorize the DLNR chairperson to negotiate and execute an agreement with Haleakala Ranch Co. and agree, in principle, to terms for a potential exchange of lands.
Once the reviews are conducted Division of Forestry and Wildlife staff will return to the board for further decision making. In addition, under state law, any such proposed land exchange would also require consideration by the state legislature.
One of the alternatives to be considered would include the state relinquishing title to the Haleakala Bridle Trail but maintaining a binding, perpetual agreement for public access to the trail. In exchange, the state would receive a perpetual easement that would allow for a new public access route to its Kahikinui Forest Reserve and Na Kula Natural Area Reserve.
The reserves, located on the upper slopes of leeward Haleakala, comprise more than 3,500 acres of outstanding opportunities for back country hiking, hunting, camping, and nature experience, and are important sites for several department initiatives, including watershed restoration and recovery of endangered species, such as the Maui Parrotbill.
“The Department supports the further study needed to consider fully this proposed land exchange. We are looking for the solution with the greatest public benefit”said William Aila, Chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
Hawaii is unique among the states in that is has a law that can ensure public ownership of certain trails if it can be determined that those trails were in existence at the time of the original law signed by Queen Liliuokalani in 1892, or if other criteria are met. In practice, however, determining whether a particular trail meets the requirements under the law can be technically and legally challenging, requiring extensive research, documentation, and in some cases, litigation.
A purported historic route to the summit of Haleakala represents such a case. While public access advocates have claimed that the historic trail, known as the Bridle Trail or Haleakala Trail, falls under the state law, the landowner has vigorously disagreed. As a result, the access advocates have sued and the case is pending in court.
The recommended studies will ensure that all natural, cultural, and historic features of the Haleakala trail and the proposed Wailaulau access are identified, protected, and preserved.. The Department will explore additional alternatives and we look forward to working in partnership with the landowner, with stakeholders and the community to come up with the greatest public benefit.