Hawaii Volcanoes National Park begins phased reopening

Parts of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park have reopened to the public for limited use as the park begins its phased reopening plan.

As of Wednesday, several trails and roads have been reopened for public use, including Mauna Loa Road, which is open for vehicles, bicyclists and hikers up to Kipukapuaulu, and open for cyclists and hikers from Kipukapuaulu to Mauna Loa Overlook; Footprints Trail, which is open from Highway 11 to the junction between the Ka‘u Desert and Mauna Iki trails; and Escape Road, which is open to cyclists, hikers and equestrians up to the Mauna Ulu Junction.

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Although these parts of the park are now open to the public, they are still subject to similar restrictions to those that limit activities at state and county parks, said HVNP spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane — groups of more than two hikers are prohibited unless each member of the group is part of the same residential or family unit, hikers not in the same group must maintain a distance of 20 feet from each other and cloth masks are encouraged, but not required.

A statement from HVNP Acting Superintendent Rhonda Loh warned that “if people cannot adhere to the latest health guidelines for their protection and ours, the park may have to close these areas again.”

The park selected these trails to reopen based on determinations that they are most suited to maintain social isolation between hikers, Ferracane said.

Footprints Trail, she said, is open one-way only, making it well-suited to control traffic, although she added the other reopened trails are wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic.

Ferracane said the limited reopening is the first phase of a gradual multi-phase reopening of the national park, which closed in March to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The park managers have done a very thorough risk assessment for a phased reopening,” Ferracane said. “But there is still no timeline for when phase two will happen.”

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For now, however, Ferracane said the public can access the reopened parts of the national park free of charge.

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