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Safety First! Staying Safe on Hawaii's Trails and Beaches

By Richard Melendez, Digital Editor

Manoa

(photo courtesy DLNR) 

On September 21, 2018, DLNR Department of Forestry & Wildlife closed the popular Mānoa Falls Trail to the public until further notice due to a landslide, because of safety concerns. State officials would be doing assessments to determine how bad the situation was.

Still, in just the few days since the trail has been closed, three people have already been cited for sneaking onto the trail, despite the barriers and posted warnings.

The closure of Mānoa Falls brings to mind another beautiful hike into a lush valley, Sacred Falls, on the Windward side of O‘ahu. On Mother’s Day In 1999, an avalanche occurred, dropping boulders the size of cars upon hikers who had just finished the hike and were enjoying the spectacular view of the falls. Eight people died on that tragic day, and the trail has remained closed ever since, though people still risk their lives by sneaking in.

In 2017 alone, 260 hikers had to be rescued from O‘ahu trails, with several others meeting untimely ends.

It’s also worth noting that an average of one swimmer per week drowns in Hawai‘i waters, with countless others requiring some sort of aid.

I’m not trying to be a killjoy - Hawai‘i’s natural wonders should be enjoyed! and respected And you can argue that the aforementioned events at those two waterfall trails couldn’t have been prevented, and that Mother Nature is going to do as she pleases, regardless of whether humans are in her path - and you’d be right.

But in many instances where a hiker or swimmer required a rescue, suffered an injury, or worse, there were actions that could have been taken that may have prevented or lessened the consequences. So before venturing out to the beach or onto a trail, it’s worth it to take a few minutes to educate yourself.

The website for Hawai‘i Beach Safety has real-time conditions for each island, including tips on staying safe and what all those hazard symbols and signs mean. 

Also, the State’s DLNR Division of Forestry & Wildlife, and their Nā Ala Hele Trail & Access Program both offer current information on Hawai‘i’s trails, including closures, conditions, and even safety tips. 

And lastly, the Visitor Aloha Society in conjunction with the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority have put together an invaluable handbook on visitor safety that includes chapters on how to protect yourself while out in the great outdoors. 

Please don’t be afraid to venture outside of your hotel room! We want you to take a swim in our waters and stroll through our trails. Just be aware of your surroundings at all times, and heed the warnings from public officials, like lifeguards. If they’re telling you to stay away, then there is surely good reason to listen. Braving treacherous conditions may make for a great story when you get back home, but is that photo or video worth your life?

We often forget that, though well maintained, Hawai‘i’s trails and other natural resources have some inherent risks. Some may be due to forces beyond our control, but more often than not there are things that we can do to prepare ourselves. Arming yourself with some knowledge is the best defense.

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