By Bill Mossman, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsNovember 3, 2009
KILAUEA MILITARY CAMP, Island of Hawaii - Nestled within the vast acres of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and just below the rim of the Kilauea caldera, sits one of the 50th State's truly idyllic getaways for service members and their families.
For nearly a century, the mountainside resort known as Kilauea Military Camp (KMC) has served as a principal destination for both the adventurous and the weary. For the former, it's the chance to personally witness steaming craters, crunch across rocky lava fields or wind through lush tropical forests. For the latter, it's the opportunity to exhale and relax a bit, following months of service downrange.
Above it all - and we're talking some 4,000 feet of elevation here - is the tranquil serenity of life in the highlands, where the charm of this chilly and secluded piece of the country easily outshines the glitter of Waikiki.
Or, as camp director Marc Swanson explained when describing the place, "It's like a very, very small village that's particularly inviting for families, and with very little traffic."
Automobiles may indeed be scarce in these parts, but humans are plentiful. Even in tough economic times, the resort continues to thrive, attracting between 50,000 and 60,000 active duty and retired military personnel to its cozy confines each year, according to marketing manager Arlene Bali.
Helping to keep the masses flowing to this Big Island hot spot are scores of on-site recreational activities. Guests find themselves feeling right at home on the camp's volleyball, tennis or basketball courts, or within its equally inviting bowling alley and theater.
In addition, there's a general store, a post office and a chapel, as well as the nearby Jagger Museum and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, for those who simply wish to hang out within in the park's premises. For guests who prefer venturing off-site, tour busses are available to transport them to popular destinations around the Big Island, including the Punaluu Black Sand Beach, on an almost daily basis.
"There's a little bit of something here for everyone," Swanson confirmed.
Even historical figures have felt the lure of KMC. Before Dwight Eisenhower became the 34th President of the United States, for example, he was a 5-star general with the U.S. Army and one-time visitor to the resort.
Now known as the Eisenhower House, the two-bedroom cabin where "Ike" stayed, recently underwent a face-lift. The idea behind the full restoration project, Swanson explained, was to bring the rustic cabin into the future, and in line with KMC's 90 other guest suites, all of which are equipped with modern-day amenities.
"It looks great," said Swanson of the Eisenhower House, where work was completed this past summer. "Plus we were able to save money by not having to contract outside. The work, in fact, was done by many of our own employees."
But KMC's main draw for guests, famous or not, continues to be the awesome yet threatening power of Kilauea Volcano.
In the past 25 years, there have been only two full-scale evacuations of the site due to volcanic eruptions, according to Mardie Lane, a park ranger and public affairs officer for the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The more frequent danger, she added, has to do with day-to-day air quality. For that reason, park rangers are constantly checking the levels of sulfur dioxide in and around the crater.
"We monitor the air 24-7, but people still come to the park with their usual trepidation," Lane said, adding that fear levels drop dramatically once guests catch their first glimpse of the beauty of Kilauea. "For them, the volcano draws them in because it's a primal, charismatic force. It's really mesmerizing."
Beyond the fiery display of Kilauea, there are numerous hiking trails, through rainforests or along lava fields, for visitors to enjoy. Among the more popular excursions are Devastation Trail, a one-kilometer walk through a once-forested area buried by pumice following an eruption in 1959; Devil's Throat, a collapsed crater located along the east rift zone; and Puu Loa Petroglyph Trail, a short hike to a boardwalk that encircles thousands of ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs, many of which have been scratched into the pahoehoe (smooth, unbroken) lava.
Lane, who, accompanied by her family, first hiked into the caldera at age 3, says that Kilauea should be experienced by one and all.
"I'm still inspired by this place," she said. "I still love the feel of the chill in the air, or the smell of the wood-burnt surroundings, or the panoramic views of the ocean, ... Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.
"In so many ways," Lane added, "I feel privileged to work here."
Established in 1916 by a group of entrepreneurs from Hilo, KMC served as a training ground for the National Guard and as a vacation spot for U.S. Army members. When the venture proved unprofitable, the businessmen asked the Army to assume management responsibilities in 1921.
Today, the camp occupies 56 acres of the more than 300,000 acres at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and operates under a joint Armed Forces agreement and a special use permit obtained from the U.S. National Park Service.
Holiday Specials at Kilauea Military Camp
Soldiers and family members are encouraged to take advantage of several special offers at Kilauea Military Camp (KMC) during the holiday season. The specials include:
Aca,!AcA $50 dining credit at the resort's Crater Rim CafAfA for service members who make reservations for three nights or more at the resort. The offer is good through Nov. 25. To download a coupon flier, visit the Web site, www.kmc-volcano.com.
Aca,!AcA free meal for all veterans who attend the KMC Veterans' Day ceremony and dinner, Nov. 11.
Aca,!AcNon-veterans are also invited and will enjoy dinner at a reduced price. Also, veterans will gain free admission to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the holiday. To make dinner reservations, call 808-967-8371.
Aca,!AcA Thanksgiving Day dinner, consisting in part of roast turkey and honey-glazed ham, is scheduled Nov. 26. Adults pay $19.95, children ages 6-11 pay $10.
In addition to these specials, KMC is also asking guests to begin making room reservations for the inaugural Volcano Village Rainforest Run, scheduled Aug. 21, 2010. Online reservations start Nov. 1 at the Web site, www.volcanoartcenter.org.
For more information on KMC, call 808-967-8333 or direct dial from Oahu at 808-438-6707.
For more information on the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, visit www.nps.gov.