Park representatives hold talk story session with Pahoa residents

  • The view from Crater Rim Trail on Friday in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. TOM CALLIS/Tribune-Herald

Scores of Pahoa residents and several Hawaii Volcanoes National Park representatives filled the Tin Shack Bakery in Pahoa Thursday for the first of several meetings to discuss the future of the park.

The meeting, the first of four “Talk Story with the Park” meetings to be held over the next week, began with updates about the park’s current status, but quickly changed to focus on recommendations from the assembled residents about how the park can include the community.

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Matthew Purvis, owner of the Tin Shack Bakery, said the concerns of the community seemed to primarily revolve around how the park’s plans will affect Pahoa businesses.

In particular, when Ben Hayes, the park’s chief of interpretation, announced a mobile visitors center that would travel around the island, many attendees at the meeting were eager to see the visitors center frequently visit Pahoa, although many also requested a more permanent center in Pahoa.

“I think every community is going to want that, but Pahoa is special, because the eruption’s happened right here,” Purvis said. “People are going to want to see that.”

Some residents expressed frustration with the park’s apparent inability to provide concrete estimates for when reappraisals, repairs and reopenings might occur. However, park representatives emphasized that the lull in volcanic activity in no way means that the eruption is over — an aspect of uncertainty that makes it difficult to make long-term plans.

Jon Christensen, director of facilities management, said that the park still needs to ensure the safety of staff members within the park while making damage assessments.

Parks spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane reminded residents that park employees live in the area too and understand the struggle other residents are going through.

“During the pause (of volcanic activity), we’re trying to think pause-itively,” Ferracane said to scattered groans.

Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando said she felt the meeting went well and hopes the subsequent meetings are equally productive.

“We wanted to reach out to different audiences and hear what concerns they have,” Orlando said. “We want to work with the community as much as we can.”

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A second meeting was held Friday in Pahala. The remaining two meetings will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Volcano Art Center’s Niaulani Campus, and at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at the park’s Kahuku Unit.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com