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Home Hawai'i Statewide News Illegal forest trails lead to multiple issues including safety concerns

Illegal forest trails lead to multiple issues including safety concerns

by Thunda
Kahakapao Recreation Area is a Hot-Spot for Illegal Trails

(Makawao Forest Reserve, Maui) – At one time, workers with the state’s Na Ala Hele Trails and Access System counted 21 illegal trails crossing the popular Pineapple Express mountain bike trail at the Kahakapao Recreational Area.  A series of legal, planned, and engineered trails at Kahakapao provide thrills and fun for mountain bikers of all ages and experience levels, as well as for hiking and horseback riding. For everyone’s safety, certain trails were built to keep various uses separated. 

Scott Fretz, the Maui Branch manager for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) explained, “This network of bike, equestrian, and pedestrian trails were put together through a planned process and to a degree they separate out different users for safety. There are specific trails where you don’t want to have bikes and pedestrians mixing; where bicyclists are moving very fast.” 

The problem of illegal trails is not a new one, nor is it isolated to Kahakapao. It is an issue on state forest lands across Hawai‘i. Fretz added, “Not only do these trails pose safety hazards, people cut down trees when they build them. Cutting down trees is illegal, creates erosion and can destroy endangered plants and trees.” He said there are serious fines and penalties for anyone caught chopping down trees or building an illegal trail.  The Na Ala Hele crew on Maui is responsible for some 30-miles of recreational trails, which means they must provide regular maintenance and upkeep for the entire trail system. At Kahakapao, they’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time blocking and erasing illegal trails. These were built by mountain bikers looking for even more technically challenging routes than the marked, established, and legal trails. 

“We spent two-weeks of 10-hour days trying to restore the forest at Kahakapao, in locations where illegal trails have uprooted native plants and trees,” said Corey Rosa a forestry and wildlife technician with DOFAW’s Na Ala Hele program. He added, “They’re building cool  technical trails, but they don’t have safety in mind. It would be nice if they came out and helped us build planned trails.” That offer is always open and in fact, the entire Kahakapao trail network was constructed after consultation with biking constituents, an advisory council, the Maui Mountain Bike Coalition, and others. 

The environmental damage caused by illegal trails is heartbreaking to lovers of native plants and trees. Kaina Ryan, another DOFAW forestry worker, pointed out some of the damage  during a recent trail restoration workday. “So, here’s a nice young ʻōhiʻa that is still alive. Most of them are pretty much either dead or down on the ground already. And on this side, we have the native pilo. There’s koa and maile too. I would say these are the main ones that are destroyed during the making of all these illegal bike trails,” Ryan observed. 

Fretz said, “We are working on new trails, but we have to do it through a planned process, including environmental reviews and conservation district use permits. We can build new trails, but we have to do it in a responsible manner.” 

Anyone who sees illegal trail building is encouraged to call the 24-hour hotline at 643-DLNR or report via the free DLNRTip app. 

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