TWIN FALLS, Hawaii (KHON) — Twin Falls is one of the most popular stops along Maui’s iconic Hana Highway. It’s gotten so popular, the area became a safety concern as hundreds of cars park along the highway, and people often dodge across the road to visit the falls.
However, many local residents avoid Twin Falls due to the overwhelming number of visitors.
“I can count on my two hands how many local cars I get a day here,” said Aina Harold, who has worked at Twin Falls for 15 years. “There’s a big gap between how many local people want to come here and how many visitors are coming here.”
In recent years, the privately-owned farm decided to cap the number of cars in its parking lot at any given time to 75, but keeps resident parking available all day. Tourists sometimes get angry if they can’t get in at a certain time, Harold said.
“I understand their frustration. They’ve spent thousands of dollars. It’s their dream vacation. There’s those expectations to be able to access every place you want to go,” Harold said. “It can get heated sometimes.”
In hopes of attracting residents back to the site, the Friends of Twin Falls organization ran a test on Saturday. They blocked off the parking lot to tourists, allowing only residents to park and enter Twin Falls by showing their Hawai’i ID.
Even if a Hawai’i driver has a car full of non-residents, Harold said, they’d have to come back another day.
The move aims to showcase how well-managed public access places can benefit both residents and visitors, according to Maile Davis, who works for Friends of Twin Falls.
“We need a break too,” said Davis. “Not that we discourage visitors and tourists because we welcome them and cater to them every day, but also we realize our residents need a place and time for themselves, too.”
Harold said she thinks it’s important for the community to have this time for residents to enjoy their natural resources. “This is our test run. We have no idea what to expect tomorrow,” she said.
Both women said the plan is to have more “locals only” days in the future at the spot.
“The fact is, Hana Highway was not made to accommodate this many cars and people. The road was not built to accommodate this kind of traffic. The sights, bridges, pull-offs, the way the road is was not meant to have 50 cars parked on the side,” explained Harold.
Sean Quinlan, the House Chair of the Tourism Committee, believes that Hawai’i needs to manage tourism’s flow better.
“I think what you’ve seen, especially over the last few years, is that communities are crying out for help, and we’ve been ignoring them for way too long,” said Quinlan (D – Waialua, Haleiwa, Kahana). “I hope that in this new era, where we seem to be re-examining our relationship with everything, we can also re-examine our relationship with tourism. I think we have to get to a place where we start putting local residents first.”
As a Haleiwa resident, he said he understands and has experienced how difficult it is to get a parking spot at Waimea Bay any day of the week. He said he completely avoids the area, along with other North Shore Oahu hotspots.
“We as a state are doing a very good job of managing flows of money, right? Tourists come in. We collect all the tax dollars, and that’s great. But, we’re not managing 10 million people. These flows of people that are just coming into our communities, day after day after day,” he said.
Quinlan said reservation systems can be helpful for avoiding overcrowding, but residents need to be considered too.
“We can’t just say if a parking lot has 100 spaces that all 100 of them can be booked by the visitor. We have to reserve spots for people with Hawai’i driver’s license so that locals can enjoy the natural resources that our tax dollars pay to protect,” he said.
Quinlan said a carrying capacity study is already underway at the Oahu beaches of Waimea Bay and Shark’s Cove. “And, I suspect that it’ll come back and say there are too many people visiting the area,” Quinlan said. “So, how do we control that? Well, we control the parking lots.”
He said visitors should have to pay a reasonable fee to park in those parking lots, but residents could come and go as they please for free.
He said the fees could then be used to hire more conservation officers, protect honu and monk seals and help pay for parking lot and park improvements.
The idea would be for visitors to download a mobile app when they land. With QR codes placed throughout the airport, the app would allow them to make reservations for all parks they plan to visit.
“As they try to make that reservation, the system will tell them something along the lines that 2 p.m. on a Saturday, is a very high trafficked time at Sharks Cove. They would still be able to buy a ticket, but we want to make you aware that you’re going to sit in traffic. And, oh, by the way, here are three or four other locations that aren’t as crowded that you might prefer to go to,” Quinlan explained.
“So we’re creating a better experience not just for the residents but for the visitors, too. Nobody wants to spend $3,000 to bring their family here and sit in traffic,” he continued.
The state house already has a measure moving along to create a mobile app for state park reservations. They hope they can add county parks to the system in the future, too.
In the meantime, the Friends of Twin Falls hope to make the resident-only system a regular feature at the site, and encourage residents to take advantage of the opportunity to explore the area without the congestion of tourists.