KAENA POINT STATE PARK, Hawaii - Navigating the pristine trails, here, which are dotted with native vegetation, offers an "a-ha" Hawaii nature experience.

However, this nearly three-mile stretch of coastline, where sand and rock meet the oftentimes-turbulent ocean, is under siege.

The growing popularity of recreational four-wheel-drive off-roading is endangering future access and preservation of the area.

Off-roading damage to the coastline, vegetation and wildlife is creating concern for state officials, community members and the military community alike.

"It's a mess - made even worse with the growing promotion and word of mouth about Kaena Point throughout the off-roading community," said Randall Kennedy, manager, Natural Area Reserve Program in the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, or DLNR.

Members of the local Army community are being described as one of the contributing groups that are creating "a kind of mud-bogging free-for-all," according to Curt Cottrell, administrative assistant, Hawaii State Parks.

Cottrell and others, including the nonprofit group Friends of Kaena, are developing and enforcing stricter regulations to protect the area.

"The worst-case scenario is that we slap a "kapu" (forbidden) sign up and make the area inaccessible to vehicles," Cottrell said.

Postings on the Internet, especially on YouTube, show local clubs and off-roaders creating and burrowing through huge mud bogs that were once sand dunes, vegetation and dunes, here. Unfortunately for federal, state, community and military officials, off-roading here also looks like fun.

"Since the advent of the Internet (off-roading has) basically gotten out of control," said Summer Nemeth, an area resident whose family has lived and fished in the Kaena Point area for generations.

Nemeth said the loosened dirt and mud inundates the reefs, damages the local ecosystem, and subsequently, local Kaena fishing sites.

"Everyone's access is threatened with the level of damage being done," she said.

The many off-roading videos and blogs feature local military members and that makes them a focus of the advisory groups' awareness campaign.

"It looks bad for the military because it's not that everyone doesn't care, but it appears that way," Nemeth said.

"It's important for our Soldiers and family members to understand that we all share a responsibility to respect our local environment, particularly our state parks, and to recognize areas where off-roading is not permitted," said Col. Douglas Mulbury, commander, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii.

DLNR and State Park officials formed the Kaena Point Advisory Group in 2009 to help advise on managing solutions. The group includes representatives from North Shore and Waianae neighborhoods, Camp Erdman, fishermen and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. They all identified off-roading as an escalating problem.

Restricting access to Kaena Point is not a preferred solution.

"We have the authority to shut down (access to Kaena), but the goal is to come up with a process where this area can be properly regulated," Cottrell said.

State of Hawaii officials are working toward providing off-roaders an authorized alternative solution. A mud-bogging site is under construction at Sand Island State Park, near the Honolulu International Airport.

This damaging off-roading is even threatening the casual use of local fishermen using four-wheel-drive vehicles. Kaena Point has been the site of seasonal fishing villages since at least the 1700s, and it's also an area of relaxation with spiritual significance to Hawaiians, Nemeth said.

"Everyone needs ways to alleviate stress, but not (at the expense of) destroying lands and cultural areas," she said.

"Off-duty recreation is important to our Soldiers and family members, but our Hawaiian community is seeking our help, and we are redoubling our commitment to make our Army community aware of the problem," Mulbury said.

"Our garrison's environmental and conservation efforts have been recognized throughout the world," Mulbury continued. "We will ensure every member of our Army community understands that Kaena Point is a great area for other off-duty recreation - to hike, explore and watch whales - and that it is, also, a place that deserves our respect."

Learn more about Kaena Point State Park at www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/kpsa or the Ecosystem Restoration Project at www.state.hi.us/dlnr/dofaw/kaena/index.htm.

Watch Kaena Point videos at www.vimeo.com/usaghi/kaena and www.youtube.com/watch'v=023zAU0wVc8.

For motocross and BMX "alternatives," contact Kahuku Motocross Park at 808-668-6276 or visit www.sandboxhawaii.com.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16