In 1993 nearly five hundred hikers hit the trail and walked the entire length of the Ala Kahakai in one day. This “trail by the sea” runs two hundred miles from Upolu Point in Kohala to the Hilo side of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The event that brought these hikers together was National Trails Day, an annual nation-wide celebration of public trailways. Through the non-profit, community based group E Mau Na Ala Hele, 45 hike teams were organized and simultaneously walked varying lengths of this ancient Hawaiian path. Their purpose was to gain recognition of the trail for incorporation into the National Trail System. Over 3500 photographs were taken and reams of notebooks were filled documenting the trail, its resources, and the massive public turnout. All the information was passed onto the National Park Service who administers many of the nation’s 29,000 miles of National Trails (none of which are in Hawaii.) E Mau Na Ala Hele has again focused on the Ala Kahakai. Last month on June 7, National Trails Day, a party of hikers kicked off a yearlong celebration of this great coastline resource.
This year, instead of a one-day survey of the whole trail, E Mau Na Ala Hele has organized a series of weekend day hikes that sequentially traverse the Ala Kahakai. Each weekend for the next year hikers will walk the trail in sections from Upolu to Hilo. Last month the trail was covered from Upolu to Pu’ukohola. July and August will travel down the Kona-Kohala coast to Kailua-Kona. Na Ala is looking for sponsors of sections. Needed are hikers, hiking teams, hike leaders, co-leaders, participating businesses and organizations to share their leadership, knowledge, and mana’o for one full year of focused Island-wide participation. This is a great opportunity for church groups, school groups, ohanas, businesses, and professional organizations to help bring together the Ala Kahakai into one unified and protected coastline trail. Just one day in the year to walk a section of Hawaiian history is all it takes. Hikers can walk every weekend if they wish or join in on any section of the trail. If you have a particular expertise or knowledge that will enhance the interpretation of the sites visited, then your kokua is especially needed.
Today much of the Ala Kahakai has been destroyed. Lava flows, resort and urban development, plant overgrowth, and ocean erosion have all contributed to the loss of trail sections. The trail passes through four national parks, many local beach parks, and much of it is over private property. While certain ancient sections are gone, other paths such as jeep or cattle trails have often replaced them. There are numerous archeological sites within the 200 miles of trail. Some structures are obvious such as Pu’ukohola, the great temple rebuilt by Kamehameha at Kawaihae or the Hawaiian built fish ponds of Kaloko and Ai makapa. Some sites are easy to miss such as petroglyphs carved into smooth pahoehoe or a well placed stone for water collection. In some areas where the trail crosses the rough a’a, pavers made smooth by wave action are ceremoniously placed a pace apart for the ease of Ali’i footsteps. In other areas the close placement of the stones let us know that the modern builders were concerned with cattle hooves and not royalty. Biologically the trail, though sticking to the coast, travels through a remarkable diversity of ecosytems and geologic features. From green sand beaches, coastal desert strand, cinder cones, lava caves, anchialine ponds, forest remnants, habitat of endangered birds, plants, and insects, the Ala Kahakai unites them all. The trail also provides for some of the most splendid mauka views to be found as it crosses all five volcanoes on our island.
Though legislation introduced by Senator Akaka in 1993 formally designated the Ala Kahakai as a candidate for the National Trails System, the trail project is still unfunded and incomplete. The incredible amount of information given to the NPS from the 1993 National Trails Day project is now being used to formulate the Environmental Impact Statement and the report from the National Trails System Designation Committee. This year’s weekend hikes are meant to keep the trail in the public’s eye during this crucial phase of bureaucratic loops. Once the trail is accepted into the system, federal monies will be available for easements, land purchase, planning, restoration, and ongoing maintenance. Imagine our own Appalachian trail, a continuous 200 mile path, open to the public, with recreational, cultural, and natural wonders that runs from Upolu pass Ka Lae to Hilo. Take a walk some weekend this year and help make it happen.
(Photos by A. & T. Nisbet)