HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thousands of visitors spent Monday taking advantage of the reopened Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hawaii.
Private funding sources helped keep the gates open during much of the 35-day shutdown of the federal government, but that didn’t fully maintain the park. Many visitors complained about traffic and parking problems, since there weren’t any park rangers keeping commuters under control.
Restrooms and other facilities also weren’t kept up to par, the result of park employees having been furloughed.
Trying as it may have been, the government shutdown wasn’t the only time in the last twelve months that those charged with maintaining the park have experienced hardship. Volcanic eruptions that began in the spring continued for months, making it a difficult year for park staff — and for small businesses that depend on the park.
“Visitation for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Hawaii overall really peaks and spikes during that winter holiday season," said Jessica Ferracane, a spokesperson for the National Park Service. “We also see a surge prior to Chinese New Year in Chinese travelers and other Asian visitors. It was a very busy time to have the park fully closed.”
Gwendolyn Hill, the owner of BikeVolcano.com, says they’ve had to make a lot of adjustments to the company’s tour schedule. During the summer months, the tours were limited to past volcanic activity. During the shutdown, they focused on the lower east rift zone.
“The demand from our guests was to view the area outside the park," said Hill.
Visitors, she said, didn’t want to tour the national park if the restrooms weren’t being maintained. Now, other small businesses in the area are worried about the possibility of yet another shutdown that could come next month.
“It’s been very difficult as a business owner figuring out what we’re doing the next day,” said Hill.