HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii Volcanoes National Park welcomed visitors Saturday after the park's longest closure ever — 134 days.
Cars lined the street near the steam vents and the Volcano House as anxious tourists flocked to see the expanded Halemaumau Crater.
The park entrance fee was waived on Saturday because it coincided with National Public Lands Day.
"I just planned a trip out here and the timing worked out," said Daniel Seymour of Seattle, Washington.
Seymour had visited the park in 2016 and wanted to see the changes.
The Kilauea eruption in the lower east rift zone that began in early May caused explosions and rock falls at the park making it unsafe for visitors and employees. Many of the workers found other duties during the closure, shifting to the eight other national parks in Hawaii or giving talks to people in Hilo.
"I can't even describe how excited we all are and how emotional this all is," said Jessica Ferracane, Public Affairs Specialist from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The park was scheduled to reopen at 10:00 a.m. Saturday but actually welcomed guests hours earlier at 7:00 a.m.
The park is open 24 hours but a significant portion remains off limits due to safety concerns, including Thurston Lava Tube and Jaggar Museum, the most popular spot to see the lava lake from.
Ferracane says Jaggar may never reopen, at least not in it's current location.
Thiago Miara from Brazil was vacationing on Oahu when he heard about the park's scheduled reopening and booked a flight.
"I'm going to the Big Island to visit the national park," Miara said it is his first time seeing a volcano.
Gwendolyn Hill says she couldn't believe how much Halemaumau crater has grown in size in the past four months. Hill runs a bike tour company. She says the closures and inability to provide tourists with lava viewing locations hurt business tremendously. Now that the park is open again tours will start on Monday.
"The crater, it just reminds me of a canyon, like Waimea," Hill said about the increase in size of Halemaumau.
Saturday's partial opening is considered phase one.
Phase two includes the reopening of the back country trails and Thurston Lava Tube, but there is no timeline for that to happen.
"We still need a lot more assessments and data to come in," said Ferracane.
In the meantime she hopes everyone will enjoy the parts of the park that are open again.