Construction at Maunakea VIS to impact stargazing, operating hours

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Visitors park at the Maunakea Visitor Information Station on Tuesday.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Visitors park at the Maunakea Visitor Information Station on Tuesday.

The Maunakea Visitor Information Station will adjust its hours and suspend its stargazing program ahead of the start of a construction project.

The six-month-long project, which will begin in January, is aimed at improving safety and access for visitors at the popular, but at times overcrowded, stop along the Maunakea Access Road.

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Preparation for construction will start in December, and closing hours at the VIS will be changed to 5 p.m. as of Dec. 9. Restrooms will remain open 24 hours. Additionally, the visitor station’s stargazing program will be suspended during this period, according to the University of Hawaii, which operates the facility.

The project includes a new paved parking lot with 42 stalls below the VIS, new entry and exit lanes for vehicles, a new greenhouse for growing native plants, and the removal of a structure known as the “Upper Longhouse.”

The existing 24-stall parking area was installed in 1983.

“By better managing vehicular and pedestrian traffic, soil erosion in sensitive areas will be reduced, and fragile natural resources will be better protected,” UH said in a press release.

Two gates will be installed — one at the existing parking area and another at a staff parking area, according to the preferred alternative in a final environmental assessment for the project.

The gate for the existing parking lot would be closed during stargazing events, which are held at or near that location.

UH-Hilo’s Office of Maunakea Management says these changes are needed to handle an influx of visitors, attributed to improvements to the Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

One safety issue already has been addressed, with construction of a guardrail on the other side of the access road.

OMKM staff had said the use of the shoulder for parking was a hazard since people would stand in the road or have to cross it to go to the VIS. It also contributed to erosion there, they said.

The project EA estimated the price tag at $1.53 million.

According to the document, a cabin would no longer be relocated to the existing parking area, as previously proposed.

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UH said the VIS will continue to work with the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center and other partners to create live and remote stargazing events across the island.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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