Despite government shutdown, tourists still visiting HVNP, Volcano businesses

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald A Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park member talks to tourists Saturday at the park.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Tourists walk along the Sulphur Banks Trail Saturday at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The partial closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park does not appear to be keeping tourists away from Volcano, to the relief of businesses that depend on them.

For the past week, more services in the park have been curtailed due to a lapse in appropriations during the ongoing federal shutdown. Chain of Craters Road has been closed, essentially leaving the steam vents, sulphur banks and a nearby crater overlook as the only accessible attractions.

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While federal workers are being pinched, the tourists are still coming, several businesses told the Tribune-Herald. At least for now.

“It’s barely open, but it’s still open,” said Ira Ono, owner of Volcano Garden Arts and Cafe Ono, of the park.

“As long as that’s happening, we’re OK.”

That was a different story earlier this year, when only the park’s Kahuku unit was open during the eruption on Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone. That prompted the closure of the main park area at the summit, where dozens of caldera collapse events made it unsafe, for 134 days.

The effects of that event can still be viewed near the steam vents, where about 50 people were gathered on the caldera rim Saturday.

Dan and Sharon Parker of Atlanta said they were enjoying their visit.

“I just don’t know enough to know what we’re missing, I guess,” said Dan Parker.

“This is very unique,” he added.

As most of the park is closed, parking space is hard to come by as visitors cram into the few areas still accessible. Some park on curbs or on grass areas near the visitor center, where one sport utility vehicle was stuck in the mud.

With much of the park staff furloughed, there also is no one to collect entrance fees, resulting in more lost income.

The park plans to remain as accessible as possible during the shutdown, a press release said. It’s not clear if that will change if the federal shutdown continues for a long period of time.

Some of the main attractions, including the Jaggar Museum and Thurston Lava Tube, were already closed prior to the shutdown, as a result of safety concerns following the caldera collapses.

The park previously closed completely during a brief shutdown in January 2018 and for about two weeks in 2013.

The timing of the shutdown could have been worse for Hawaii Island residents, as it has also affected the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Tina Neal, HVO scientist-in-charge, said they are operating with a “skeleton crew” of eight scientists, who are working without pay for the time being.

That’s enough, she said, to keep tabs on any changes within Kilauea or Hawaii’s other volcanoes. Fortunately, not much is happening right now.

“We are looking at the data everyday,” Neal said, “and we have our alarms working.

“If anything catches our eye, we will follow up.”

The U.S. Small Business Administration continues to process disaster loan requests related to Hurricane Lane, said spokesman Burl Kelton.

That deadline is Jan. 22.

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Applications may be made by calling 800-659-2955 or online at: https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.

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

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