State joins public access group in trail lawsuit
WAILUKU, Maui (AP) — A judge is allowing a group and the state to join forces in a lawsuit seeking to open Maui’s Haleakala Trail to hikers.
Second Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza approved the move Wednesday in ongoing litigation about the trail that goes through property owned by Haleakala Ranch Co., which wants to keep hikers off the trail. The move makes the state Department of Land and Natural Resources an ally of the plaintiffs instead of a defendant in the public lands access case, according to The Maui News.
The judge’s action was the latest development in the group’s nearly two-year legal battle to gain public access to the former horse path, also called the Haleakala Bridle Trail.
The nonprofit public advocacy group maintains that the trail is a public way under the Highways Act of 1892. The disputed portion of the trail stretches from the top of Piiholo and Olinda roads, through Haleakala Ranch land and to the lower boundary of Haleakala National Park.
Public Access Trails Hawaii Executive Director David Brown said his group’s agreement with the state was a “watershed moment for trails in Hawaii.”
According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the trail was first used by Native Hawaiians, but after the arrival of Capt. James Cook in the 1700s, it was adopted by westerners as the preferred and primary way to Haleakala’s summit. The trail was used extensively through the 1800s and early 1900s until Haleakala Highway was opened in 1935. The trail probably was traveled by author and humorist Mark Twain when he visited the crater in 1866.
In May, Haleakala Ranch signed a memorandum of agreement with the state and Na Ala Hele Trail & Access System to open the trail for two hiking events annually. The hike route was to be determined by the ranch and led by a ranch or Na Ala Hele official.
PATH officials said at the time that the agreement did not settle the ownership of the trail or require the state to stop a private landowner from blocking access to public lands.
Plaintiff attorney Tom Pierce said Wednesday that people should be able to walk on public lands at any time.