WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD -- The state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is reminding the public to obey the law while hiking in Hawaii.
The state's natural beauty and temperate climate are conducive to outdoor activities, such as hiking, but some of the popular hiking trails are closed to the public -- and hiking on them is not only dangerous, but also illegal.
Those who are caught hiking on an unauthorized or closed trail put themselves at risk of having to make a court appearance, as well as facing significant fines or possible jail time.
They could also be risking their lives -- and that of emergency rescue personnel.
"What people often don't consider is, that if they get hurt and have to be rescued, they are putting emergency personnel at great personal peril," said Dan Quinn, administrator of the DLNR Division of State Parks.
One such trail that comes to mind for DLNR officials is Sacred Falls State Park. Sacred Falls has been closed since 1999, when boulders came crashing down onto the trail, killing eight hikers and injuring more than 50. But many still try to hike it, according to DLNR.
Deborah Ward, DLNR public information specialist, said the proliferation of websites, social media sites and online videos that show people hiking on the closed trails, along with instructions on how to reach the trail, only exacerbate the problem.
"In 2014, our officers wrote more than 120 citations to people who entered (Sacred Falls) illegally. Despite the presence of dozens of signs, they often told officers that the Internet said it was okay, or the Internet said the signs were just for liability," said Jason Redulla, acting chief of the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement. "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."
Added Quinn, "Geological experts who've surveyed this area tell us that rock falls will continue unabated and can't be predated, so anyone who goes to (Sacred Falls) is playing roulette with their lives."
To combat the misinformation being fostered online, DLNR launched its own online videos highlighting the risks and ramifications of hiking at Sacred Falls Park.
Another popular, but closed trail, is the Haiku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven in Kaneohe. This steep, 3,922? step trail, which falls under the jurisdiction of the state Board of Water Supply (BWS), has been closed since 1987, but that hasn't stopped many from attempting it anyway.
Senior noncommissioned officers from the 8th Special Troops Battalion, 8th Theater Sustaiment Command, hike the Kuliouou Ridge Trail in 2012. (File photo)
As this article is being written, volunteer hikers, Honolulu Fire Department personnel and personnel from the U.S. Navy's Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 37, which is based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, were searching for an 18?-year-?old man who went missing while hiking Haiku Stairs on Feb. 27, according to KHON2.
This incident occurred just several weeks after HFD rescued five hikers who were trapped at the Haiku Stairs, which had been damaged by a landslide during a recent storm in February, according to Hawaii News Now. HFD dispatched a crew to extract the hikers, but had to call off the rescue because it was too dark to proceed. The hikers had to spend the night on the trail and were rescued by HFD the following morning.
That incident prompted the BWS to reiterate its warning for the public to stay away from the trail, which isn't maintained, and to remind the public that those caught on the trail could be cited for trespassing.
Exercise common sense while hitting the trails
Even Hawaii's safest sanctioned hiking trails pose a risk for those who don't adequately prepare before heading out.
The most important thing a hiker can do before setting out is to take an accurate assessment of their ability, said Capt. David Jenkins, Honolulu Fire Department information officer.
"A lot of people underestimate the difficulty of the trail and overestimate their capability even on moderate trails," he said, adding that HFD has responded to many medical emergencies at Diamond Head Trail and Koko Head Crater Trail, both of which are open to the public.
He suggested the following basic safety tips:
•Start a hike early, so that it can be finished before dark.
•Adhere to posted signs. If a posted sign warns you to stay out, do not proceed.
•Let others know where you are hiking and when you expect to be back.
•Do not delay calling 911 if you need help.
Bill Maxwell, U.S. Army Garrison?-Hawaii safety officer, had these basic hiking safety tips to add:
•If you are new to Hawaii and unfamiliar with the trail, go with a friend.
•Take emergency essentials, such as a first? aid kit, aspirin and a flashlight.
•Plan for unexpected changes in weather and dress accordingly.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources also has a list of hiking safety tips at www.dlnr.hawaii.gov/recreation/nah/trail?safety/.
For an island? by ?island list of sanctioned trails, visit Na Ala Hele, DLNR's Hawaii Trail & Access System, at www.hawaiitrails.org.
View DLNR's video campaign highlighting the risks of hiking Sacred Falls at www.vimeo.com/115830643 and www.vimeo.com/119476916