Illegal off-roading prompts the state to close roads at Kaena for nearly two months

KAENA POINT, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time ever, the Department of Land and Natural Resources has closed the roads at Kaena State Park for nearly two months to help prevent further damage caused by mud-bogging, a practice where drivers attempt to cross deep pools of muddy water or drive over saturated ground.

The temporary closure began President's Day weekend, but the state has been trying to crackdown on illegal off-roading at Kaena for years.

Back in December 2014, the land department locked the gate to Kaena and launched a new permit system for vehicles, mostly to allow fishing.

While officials say there are now fewer vehicles in the park, more than 8,000 people have permits, and they say some of them are taking advantage of the access, especially during the recent wet weather.

"It's just not drying out and we have a lot of puddles, a lot huge areas where if we let vehicles in, they would just massacre the landscape," said Curt Cottrell, administrator of DLNR's Division of State Parks.

Road scars left by tires and craters -- some as deep as two feet -- can be found throughout the area.

"It is not a four-wheel drive recreational location. It's got cultural value, resource value, historic value. Any type of abuse with vehicles, that soil ends up in some of the best near shore water in the state," Cottrell said.

Conservationists who work in the area say the illegal off-roading also endangers wildlife.

"It destroys the habitat. Most of the birds are obviously out at the point itself, but they don't utilize that area exclusively. We do sometimes find them in the state park section," said Dr. Lindsay Young, executive director of Pacific Rim Conservation.

Young says there has been improvement since the permit system was implemented, but she says wet weather draws bad crowds.

"The number of cars we actually see on the road has gone down from anywhere from 50 to 100 per day, to maybe 5 to 10 on any given day we're out there. Even with that, any time there's heavy rains, there's still people out there who will go mud-bogging and abuse the permit system," said Young.

The land department says those caught breaking the rules will be cited and they can have their vehicles confiscated.

Officials say they are monitoring the roads daily and will reopen the gate once the roads are restored.

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