January 4, 2017

                                                                                  By Cameron Miculka West Hawaii Today

MAUNA KEA - Just off the Mauna Kea Access Road near the summit sits a sign, greeting hikers with a warm "Aloha" in big yellow letters.

The sign identifies the volcano as "historically, culturally and environmentally significant," and asks hikers to preserve the island's landscape and "show your respect by not hiking beyond this point to the summit."

The sign doesn't outright ban hiking to the summit, though, and on Friday a band of bundled up hikers could be seen making their way up the snow-covered Puu Wekiu, Mauna Kea's highest point and what the Office of Mauna Kea Management calls the "most sacred part of Mauna Kea."

It's a sign, quite literally, of government efforts to balance access to public lands with respect for cultural practices that predate that government by centuries.

It can be a difficult balance to strike. Already, debate surrounding whether to build the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope atop the summit has thrown that $1.4 billion project into limbo.

At a place like Mauna Kea, where outdoor recreation, the pursuit of science and faith converge and, in some cases, collide, the sign is an example of officials walking a very high tightrope.

"Some hikers respect the request and do not venture further, while others ignore the sign and requests from rangers," said Stephanie Nagata, director of the Office of Mauna Kea Management.

The sign went up in 2013 at the request of Kahu Ku Mauna, the office's Native Hawaiian Advisory Council, said Nagata.

And though the Office and rangers are asking hikers to respect the sign, the OMKM said, there currently aren't any plans to legally prohibit access to the summit.

"Access onto UH managed lands will always be open to the public," Nagata said. "Rules regarding closure of the road would be for public safety reasons."

Furthermore, a 2015 summary about proposed rules for university-managed lands explicitly states that "rules are not intended to prevent access into the Mauna Kea lands, but instead are to provide for the safe and appropriate access for all visitors."

And history shows visitors want that access.

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The Office of Maunakea Management is charged with day-to-day management of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve as prescribed in the Master Plan. The adoption of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan by the University of Hawaii Board of Regents in June 2000 marked a critical milestone in the management of Maunakea.


Meetings and public hearings spanning a period of nearly two years went into the formulation of the Master Plan, which established management guidelines for the next 20 years. The Master Plan reflected the community's deeply rooted concerns over the use of Maunakea, including respect for Hawaiian cultural beliefs, protection of environmentally sensitive habitat, recreational use of the mountain, and astronomy research.   


It places the focus of responsibility with the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UHH). The UH-Hilo Chancellor established the Office of Maunakea Management and the Board of Regents established the Maunakea Management Board in the fall of 2000. The Maunakea Management Board in turn formed Kahu Ku Mauna, a council comprised of Hawaiian cultural resource persons to serve as advisors.
OMKM Mission

To achieve harmony, balance and trust in the sustainable management and stewardship of Mauna Kea Science Reserve through community involvement and programs that protect, preserve and enhance the natural, cultural and recreational resources of Maunakea while providing a world-class center dedicated to education, research and astronomy.


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