LETTER: Commercial Operations on Maunakea
As a citizen of the state and county of Hawaii I have concerns that I would like to voice in regards to the current ongoing affairs on Maunakea. With the development of TMT and subsequent protests things have become heated and tensions high on the mountain. We are all aware of the concerns regarding the cultural, archeological and environmental aspects of the mountain as well as the scientific draw for astronomy, which is also an important aspect of the Hawaiian and Polynesian culture and history. In this letter I would like to speak to the commercial use of this sacred mountain. Being a guide for an officially licensed tour operator on Maunakea, I obviously have a vested interest in the continued commercial use of the mountain, seeing as how it is how I keep a roof over my head and put food on the table. However, more than simply a job, Maunakea has become a part of my life. For years I have been sharing the beauty, culture, history and astronomy of Maunakea with people from around the world. I have attended trainings put on by OMKM for tour operators, have completed and continue to do extensive personal study of the mountain, and dedicate immense amounts of energy to interpreting all aspects of Maunakea to the visitors of our wonderful island home. I make it a point to inform guests of as many aspects of Maunakea as possible, including the cultural history and sacred nature of the mountain. Although I was not born here in the islands, I can confidently say that I have taken it upon myself to cultivate a deep understanding, appreciation and respect for both the scientific and cultural aspects of Maunakea, which I strive to share with my guests.
In these times of turmoil on Maunakea, it seems that commercial tour operators on the mountain easily become a target for criticism, being seen as “users” of the mountain, often with negative connotation of the word. I think it is important to note that we are also in the best position to be stewards of the mountain, which is what I strive to do and be. I speak for myself, but am confident that my fellow operators share the same sentiment. While there has been a lot of discussion about limiting the number of people on the mountain, and making sure that visitors to Maunakea are educated as to its history and current state, it is important to note that these concerns are EXACTLY what commercial tour operators address.
First, although the overall number of visitors to Maunakea has increased dramatically over the last five years, commercial operation numbers have NOT. With current commercial operation regulations, and the fact that no new permits are being issued, commercial use numbers have not gone up, nor will they. Any increase in visitation to the mountain has not been from the officially licensed commercial operation side.
Second, in regards to education, commercial operators are the main educators of the mountain. Although the Visitor Information Station provides an opportunity for the general public to learn about the mountain, the number of people who take it upon themselves to utilize that resource is unknown. Although visitors are encouraged to stop at the VIS, they don’t have to and many do not. These people often never learn about the cultural and safety concerns of the mountain. These are also often the people who visit the summit ahu, Lake Waiau and other sensitive sites where they may or may not conduct themselves in a safe or respectful manner. Most of the commercial operators, if not all, prevent their guests from unknowingly damaging culturally sensitive sites or going places they shouldn’t. We also provide basic medical care, oxygen as needed and safe transportation. As far as transportation goes, this limits unneeded wear on the access road, substantially reduces the number of vehicles on the mountain, and keeps people from driving unsafe vehicles (namely 2WD) to the summit.
In short commercial tour operators provide safe, educated and limited access to the summit of our sacred Maunakea. I ask that these aspects of commercial operation be remembered in going forward with the continued development and use of the mountain. Thank you for taking a moment to hear my concerns.
Citizen, Tour Operator and Steward of Maunakea
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