This Popular Trail in Kailua Might Be Closing for the Summer
The Maunawili Falls Trail may temporarily close due to community complaints of visitors littering, trespassing and more.
Photo: Michael Keany
For decades, the public access point leading to the Maunawili Falls Trail has attracted invidious traffic to the small (and previously quiet) Kailua neighborhood. Maunawili Estates Community Association members complain of noise at all hours, litter, people trespassing on their lawns or trying to use their hoses and bathrooms, crime, devaluing of their homes and clogged streets from hikers. Though it has been a problem for some time, the popularity of the hike has been exacerbated by social media in recent years. Good news for residents: The city’s Department of Planning and Permitting is requiring the landowner, HRT Realty LLC (which owns the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club), to do something about it—or else.
Many residents wish to close the trailhead for good, feeling it does more harm to the community than intended. Acting planning director Kathy Sokugawa spelled it out in a statement: “The Hawai‘i State Constitution grants public access to the ocean and mountains as a right, and the city’s historic agreement to allow the golf course development specifically required access to the trail in perpetuity for as long as the golf course is in use.” Since 1986, the Royal Hawaiian Golf Course has operated on agriculturally zoned land. Though there are three other ways to legally access the falls, this particular point is shortest and the most convenient for hikers.
Some improvements that need to be made include a parking lot, security, trash pickup and restroom facilities, as well as restoring the trail and making it safer for all hikers. Sakugawa says, “We believe that a new managed access point and sustainable management plan can satisfy both residents and hikers, as well as allowing the trail to recover from overuse.”
If access to the falls isn’t upheld, the city may halt golf course operations. HRT has until June 1 to submit a management plan, which can include a temporary closure, as long as the trail reopens by Oct. 1. The first status report is due this month.
Photo: Courtesy of the Maunawili Estates Community Association
In 1986, the city grants the Royal Hawaiian Country Club Inc. a special permit to develop a golf course on agriculturally zoned land as long as public access to the Maunawili Falls Trail remains.
The city clarifies in 1992 that the landowners shall provide public access to the falls “as required to allow a convenient and safe passage for pedestrians.”
The Sierra Club builds the trail for $10,000 in 1995.
In 2016, residents provide testimony to the Department of Planning and Permitting in support of closing the trail, but the city maintains access is important and will remain.