Kilauea Iki Trail restored

  • Trail crews work to repair a damaged retaining wall along the Kilauea Iki Trail. (National Park Service Photo)
  • MICHAEL BRESTOVANSKY/Tribune-Herald From left, Greg Carlin, trail crew member; Patrick Murphy, acting trail crew lead; Jon Christensen, chief of facilities management; and Elizabeth Fien, president and CEO of the Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park gather to discuss the Kilauea Iki Trail repairs Thursday at the park.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will reopen one of its most popular trails Sunday, the one-year anniversary of the park’s reopening after the 2018 Kilauea eruption.

The Kilauea Iki Trail, a 2.4-mile trail that descends to the floor of the Kilauea Iki Crater, was partially reopened in April, but extensive damage caused by the thousands of earthquakes that rocked the mountain during the Kilauea eruption prevented the park from reopening the entire 3-mile loop of trail. While visitors could still descend into the crater, the trail along the crater’s north rim was deteriorated, forcing hikers to double back.

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Thanks to months of grueling work by trail crews, visitors to the park will once again be able to make a complete loop into and around the crater along the Kilauea Iki and Crater Rim trails.

“The trail goes through a special ecological area, and that made it one of our most popular trails,” said Jon Christensen, chief of facilities management at HVNP. “But that also made it one of our most heavily damaged trails.”

Much of the damage to the trail was caused by sinkholes and fallen boulders. In several cases, a rockfall or a sinkhole damaged retaining walls keeping the trail’s shape, which then had to be rebuilt to prevent more of the trail from collapsing into the crater.

Patrick Murphy, acting trail crew lead, said most of the work had to be done by hand, because the narrow and steep trail left little room to maneuver large equipment.

“We’ve built up some sweat equity on this,” Murphy laughed. “But it was good fun.”

In several instances, fallen rocks were used to repair damage to other parts of the trail. One boulder that completely blocked the trail was broken apart — by drilling holes into it and inserting wedges to split it to pieces — over the course of about 10 days where it had fallen and was transported piece by piece down the trail to fill in a damaged retaining wall, said trail crew member Greg Carlin.

Murphy said transporting material between points on the trail was the most time-consuming part of the repair work. Murphy, Carlin and a third crew member, assisted by three members of the Youth Conservation Corps, had to bring rock down the trail in wheelbarrows, transferring the cargo by hand to other wheelbarrows wherever the trail became too steep.

Elizabeth Fien, president and CEO of Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, said her organization donated $50,000 to the park to repair the trail, which was matched by the park itself. The Friends also donated another $7,290 to cover expenses related to the Youth Conservation Corps volunteers.

Hikers will still see off-limits signs while walking the trail on Sunday, however. Trails branching off Kilauea Iki Trail, such as one leading toward Volcano House and another toward Byron Ledge, remain closed.

Christensen said the park will continue to work toward repairing still-damaged trails, although there are no firm dates for when any features will reopen.

However, Christensen said he hopes that road repairs will be completed by summer 2020 that will allow the park to reopen Crater Rim Drive between Kilauea Military Camp and the indefinitely closed Jaggar Museum, as well as Hilina Pali Road beyond Kulanaokuaiki, which is currently closed to motor vehicles.

Parks spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said geomorphologists will return to the Thurston Lava Tube to compare previous scans of the currently closed tube to its current state, and determine how it has changed, if at all.

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Earlier this year, park officials were hopeful that the tube could be reopened by the end of 2019.

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

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