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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ‘can’t wait to welcome the world back’

  • NATIONAL PARK SERVICE photo

    A National Park Service geomorphologist measures a section of fractured trail.

  • This large sink hole at Kilauea Overlook/Crater Rim Drive started off as two small holes but has grown to encompass both lanes. Incident Commander John Broward and Superintendent Cindy Orlando observe the damage. NPS Photo/J. Ferracane

  • Jon Christensen/National Park Service photo

    A team including National Park Service geomorphologist Eric Bilderback logs earthquake damage and assess stability along Crater Rim Trail.

The plan to reopen Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Sept. 22 remains on schedule, with the park announcing several details of its scheduled reopening.

According to a park statement, significant assessments and repairs have been made: 32 buildings have been inspected, with water restored to nine of them, and a National Park Service geomorphologist has conducted assessments on 20 miles of trail.

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Following the evaluations, the park will be able to reopen several trails, roads and locations to the public on Sept. 22. These areas include the Kilauea Visitor Center, the Kilauea Iki Overlook and parking lot, a stretch of Crater Rim Trail between Volcano House and Kilauea Military Camp, Sulphur Banks Trail and Devastation Trail.

Roads that will be reopened include Crater Rim Drive up to the steam vents, Chain of Craters Road, Mauna Loa Road and sections of Escape Road from Highway 11. Another stretch of Crater Rim Drive to Keanakako‘i Crater and a stretch of Mauna Loa Road beyond Kipukapuaulu also will be opened, but only to cyclists and pedestrians.

“I think some of our most popular areas and most-driven roads will be open again,” said Ben Hayes, director of interpretation for the national park.

However, because of ground instability caused by the tremors that plagued the park during Kilauea’s volcanic activity, several other roads are still being assessed, and no vehicle more than 15,000 pounds will be allowed in the park.

Hayes said facilities and trails near the rim of the caldera are of significant concern, and might not ever reopen to the public.

“A lot of these holes are still expanding, even without the quakes,” Hayes said. “We’ve had to fill some holes six or seven times.”

Hayes said further assessments on other roads will be conducted Sept. 10, with an eye to finding long-term solutions to keep roads from deteriorating.

Hayes also warned that while water was restored to several buildings, no drinkable water is yet available within the park.

However, Hayes said the area of the park most compromised by volcanic activity already was closed to the public because of volcanic fumes before the total closure of the park’s main unit in May. Because of that, he said, guests will still be able to access what he called the “core” of the park.

Future repairs and reopenings might not occur until 2019, Hayes said. Without a repair budget sufficient to address every part of the park at once — “It’s millions of millions of dollars, and we don’t have that,” Hayes said — the park will prioritize future repairs based on cost and popularity. Areas such as the park’s backcountry, popular with backpackers, are on the park’s back burner.

Hayes also said a team entered the Thurston Lava Tube, also known as Nahuku, this week for the first time since the park’s closure. While a cursory investigation seemed promising, Hayes said the tube will require serious evaluation before it can be reopened to the public.

Hayes acknowledged that, with the return of thousands of visitors to the park, future repair work likely will be hindered.

“We’d rather close some parts of the park so we can make repairs than close the entire park again,” Hayes said.

Should the park reopen on schedule — the officials acknowledged that unforeseeable circumstances, such as hurricanes or wildfires, might delay the opening — it will coincide with National Public Lands Day, a day when visitors can enter the park for free.

After National Public Lands Day, entrance fees will return to their pre-closure rates — for the most part.

While seven-day per-vehicle or per-pedestrian passes will retain their previous prices, the cost of the Hawaii Tri-Park Annual Pass increased during the park’s closure and will cost $50 instead of the previous $30.

Nonetheless, Hayes said he expects visitors to be excited to return to the park after 135 days of closure.

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“We can’t wait to welcome the world back,” Hayes said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.