Letters to the Editor – 12/17/14

Illegal rappelling

The MidWeek Newsmaker article of Dec. 10, 2014, “Rappelling Waterfalls,” is troubling on many fronts. Big-budget TV specials, numerous magazines and websites currently herald extreme sports of all variety. The ability to instantly post photos on social media from out-of-bounds areas accelerates the promotion of risky behaviors depicted in this article. Most outdoor activities, both on land and in the ocean can be risky. While the MidWeek story highlights the risks for Kit Turner and other practitioners of waterfall rappelling, it glorifies their sport as something to be practiced by like-minded, risk-tolerant individuals, seeking the next adrenalin rush or thrill.

I’m dismayed the MidWeek article fails to recognize the fol- lowing. First, Mr. Turner and anyone who enters Sacred Falls State Park, is breaking the law and could face major fines and significant jail time. It is permanently closed to public access. It doesn’t matter whether entrance is via, “a light stroll through the woods,” as the article describes, or from elsewhere. The MidWeek writer and his editors undoubtedly recall why Sacred Falls was closed. A rockslide on Mother’s Day 1999 killed eight people and seriously injured dozens of others. A follow-up geological survey indicated that rock falls will continue unabated and unpredictably. There is simply no way to ensure public safety at Sacred Falls. Dozens of signs there warn of the closure, falling rocks, flash floods and other hazards. Nearly every day, officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) cite hikers trespassing in the park. These folks are often encouraged by social media, websites, and now by MidWeek, with the suggestion, to go ahead and take your chances for a quintessential Hawaii experience.

The article quotes Mr. Turner as follows: “The first time I did Sacred Falls, we had to spend the night in the canyon because we couldn’t finish it, which was super scary because rocks were falling all night.” On a second climb Mr. Turner describes the experience of a fellow climber, “As daylight waned (he) had to ascend back up the rope and switch lines. Alone, in the dark, and with no communication with his partners, it took him an hour to fix the problem and descend the falls.” Did these gentlemen consider what would happen had a rescue been necessary? Each time emergency workers are called to Sacred Falls they are putting their own lives at risk. These are people who have families and friends. Did the climbers consider the terrible emotional toll their death exacts on loved ones? Imagine the continuing pain for the families of those killed in 1999. Though climbers may claim that they assume all the risk, history has shown that when people are killed or injured on public property, Hawaii taxpayers end up footing the bill for multi-million dollar settlements.

The article concludes with a further glorification that these rappellers are not daredevils or adrenaline junkies, but “explorers.” In reality they are trespassers. As head of the Hawaii state agency that manages millions of acres of parks, forests, near-shore ocean waters, and countless recreational lands and facilities, we absolutely want people to explore and enjoy the great outdoors. We absolutely want them to do it safely on land managed and promoted for recreational access, while being mindful of any risks to themselves and others. This article does a serious disservice to this notion and MidWeek is inadvertently promoting activity that has previously been the purview of personal websites and extreme sports periodicals.

William J. Aila Jr.
Chairman, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

‘Christmas’ ban

I read the MidWeek cover story in which people expressed memorable thoughts about the downtown Christmas parade over the past 30 years and generations of shared joys. But what is happening this year?

I was surprised to learn that the mayor has explicitly instructed those participating in this year’s parade to not use the word “Christmas.” It appears in the signup website at volunteersignup.org as a requirement for participating in the parade: “You may not use the word ‘Christmas.’ The word ‘Holiday’ is often used instead.”

This is my first year in Hawaii, and I was looking forward to participating in the parade as a volunteer. I couldn’t sign up in good conscience when “Christmas” is off limits at a supposedly “Christmas” parade. I wonder what this year’s tree is called? And Mr. and Mrs. Claus, do they say the “C” word? The elves?

Without “Christmas,” it will be meaningless and much ado about nothing.

Maaza Mekuria

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