Environmental studies on tap for ‘The Great Crack’

  • U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY photo In this 2016 photo, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists investigate a portion of the Great Crack in the Keaiwa flow field on Kīlauea volcano’s Southwest Rift Zone.

The recent purchase of the “Great Crack Property” in Ka‘u by the National Park Service concludes a plan 50 years in the making.

Ben Hayes, director of interpretation for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, said the Great Crack Property — a 1,951-acre property containing a 6-mile long chasm that the park purchased for $1.95 million — has been a “property of interest” for more than five decades.

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Hayes said the property not only serves as a buffer zone shielding the environment along the southwestern boundary of the park, but also hosts important geological features that are worthy of study and preservation on their own.

“With a name like ‘The Great Crack,’ it has to be pretty great,” Hayes said.

The eponymous crack is a ravine in a lava field on the makai side of Highway 11 northeast of Pahala. In some places, the crack measures up to 60 feet wide and 60 feet deep.

Now that the park has acquired the property, Hayes said the next step is to conduct environmental studies throughout the property in order to properly take inventory of its features.

Such assessments will be used to determine how the park will manage the new site, whether it will be treated as a publicly accessible site much like it is now — the crack is a popular hiking destination, despite previously being private property — or if it requires further protection.

“We can’t just jump on that right away, because right now, we are laser-focused on reopening the park,” Hayes said.

Hayes could not say when assessments on the new property might begin, nor how long they might take. He also could not speak to how the property might be used when assessments are complete, only advising people to “stay tuned” for future developments.

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“We’re in the forever business,” Hayes said. “And this is something we’ve been trying to do for 50 years. And we’re going to continue to pursue our preservation options.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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