Seriously, Stay Away from Sacred Falls

Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources

Adventure seekers love to push boundaries and take risks. If they were invincible and immortal, this wouldn’t be a problem. But nobody is invincible and immortal, and too often in Hawaii, crossing the line is not a victimless crime.

Just yesterday the Honolulu Board of Water Supply said it no longer wants to be responsible for the Haiku Stairs, which were damaged by the weekend’s high winds. The stairs have been closed for 30 years, mind you, but each month dozens of hikers sneak around fences and hide from security guards, trespassing into treacherous territory (and often requiring equally treacherous rescue efforts).

Today, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has released a new video that they hope will warn people away from Sacred Falls State Park in Hau’ula on the North Shore. The park was the site of one of the most horrific tragedies in Hawaii history, a landslide on Mother’s Day in 1999 that killed eight people and injured more than 30 others.

The heartbreaking stories of that terrible day, when boulders the size of cars crashed down the steep valley walls and tore apart the lives of several families, are still revisited fifteen years later. But they’re still not enough to keep people out, and the DLNR is taking a stronger stance against tresspassers.

The DLNR is particularly peeved at online guides that still encourage people to visit Sacred Falls, or at least tell them how to access the closed park. The video is part of an effort to “counter countless blogs and websites which encourage hikers to trespass into the park,” decrying the current results of a web search for “Sacred Falls.”

There are Yelp reviews of the hike as recent as last month, and Keely H. of Wahiawa helpfully explains how he got in. And the top Google result for a Sacred Falls search is a post at Exploration Hawaii titled, “How to Get to Sacred Falls.” The post was written in 2012.

(The DLNR’s effort seems to be bearing fruit, though, as the post has been updated in the last 24 hours to include the new video, a note that reads, “It is illegal to hike this trail and to do so would be cause for citation or arrest,” and several “[Removed]” markers.)

The seven-minute video explains the dangers at Sacred Falls, and emphasizes the illegality of entering the park. Words like “illegal,” “disrespectful,” and “kapu” are repeated and flashed on screen for emphasis. The video notes that people try to hike to the falls despite several signs telling people to go no further.

Incredibly, hikers have told DLNR officials that they thought the signs were just a technical requirement, posted to limit government liability.

“In 2014, our officers wrote more than 120 citations to people who entered the park illegally,” said Jason Redulla, acting chief of the DLNR’s enforcement division, in a statement released today. “We take the responsibility of protecting people from the continued danger of rock falls and flash flooding seriously and have a zero tolerance policy regarding entry into Sacred Falls — If you get caught you will be cited.”

Getting a citation is hardly the worst thing that can happen to you in the park. And if you get hurt, that’s only the beginning of a much bigger crisis. It is incredibly difficult for rescuers to access the deepest parts of the valley. Helicopter rescues are essentially impossible, meaning rescuers have to hike in themselves, and face the very same dangers.

“Geological experts who’ve surveyed this area tell us that rock falls will continue unabated and can’t be predicted, so anyone who goes to the falls is playing roulette with their lives,” said DLNR Administrator Dan Quinn.

The department notes that anyone cited for entering Sacred Falls must appear in court and could face significant fines along with possible jail time. DLNR chair Carty Chang concludes, “With so many wonderful waterfall hikes available around Hawaii, there is no reason for anyone to break the law and put their own and the lives of rescuers at risk by entering Sacred Falls State Park.”

Check out the DLNR video here. For more information, visit the DLNR’s Hawaii State Parks website, and to find better hikes and trails to try, check out Na Ala Hele, the State of Hawaii Trail and Access Program.

Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources

Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources

Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources

Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources

Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources

Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources

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5 Responses

  1. Lezlie says:

    I was thinking about this the other day. I’m very happy with the outcome and closing of Sacred Falls. My son (9) and I were there on Mothers Day in 1999. We went because this hike was advertised as a hike to take children on. I am an experienced mountaineer and knew exactly what was going on when I heard the crack. I was astonished to here from how high up it happened as I could not see above the lip of the walls surrounding us. I trusted that in order for this hike to be advertised as a children’s hike that someone had to had done their homework on this. I pulled my son from the pool and watched for the forts rocks to pitch out from what I then realized was ledge on the canyon wall. Where I saw the rocks pitch the farthest, I pushed my son close to the edge and covered him with myself. I was hit by a few rocks in the back, but it wasn’t a big deal. My son’s foot was sticking out a little and he watched a rock slice the edge of his foot off. I knew people were dying, no other way to put it. We were basically tubed by the landslide. We had to step over a wall of rocks that fell in a half circle around us. Everyone pretty much knows what the outcome was.
    When I went back to see where my purse might be later on, after the nightmare at the hospital, there were a number of Kahuna in the parking lot area. They asked me if I had been there and told me the facts that we all should have known to begin with (plus a bit more info). After returning home to the mainland, I wrote a well crafted letter and sent it to 60 minutes. It ended up with the discovery channel, who hired a geologist to prove the I grant danger of the park. I goal was to close the park down for the preservation of children and for the kahunas who were the only one who had a right to attend to the area for very specific reasons. I am so happy to realize the outcome.

  2. CMAC says:

    20 fire and rescue guys, all standing in the area, talking about how dangerous it is while they stand right where the rocks fall. they don’t seem scared, not even wearing a hard hat.

    I went back there over and over the last 20 years. The State is making it a locals only place. The risk is not that great. This is complete bullshit. Warnings about the danger would be enough for most people, but instead we have to ban people from going there, but guaranteed any Saturday you will find 10-15 local teens swimming and hanging out near the base of the falls. They get no tickets. They get no stern warnings.

    It is one of the most beautiful places on Oahu. Risk the ticket. Rescuers aren’t worried about the locals, they shouldn’t be worried about you.

  3. Alex says:

    If it’s so dangerous, Why did it only close in 1999?

  4. Tim says:

    Another example of government trying to protect the people from themselves or in this case the land we pay our taxes on to keep preserved. Then they bring some “local” whose been living in Hawaiian mythology land way too long to try to weakly make up some “respect the land plea”. what about all the other falls we climb on? what a joke from people who are just trying to hide a beautiful location from the foreigners

  1. June 25, 2015

    […] and other websites that encourage people to hike and climb illegally on state land. The message? Seriously, Stay Away from Sacred Falls. Denby Fawcett catches up with the campaign this week, which is built around a web video featuring […]

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