Astronomy

Maunakea Stargazing Program Moves to Four Nights a Week

April 3, 2017, 2:48 PM HST
* Updated April 7, 10:25 AM
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Maunakea Visitor Information Station. Photo source: www.ifa.hawaii.edu

The free stargazing program at the Maunakea Visitor Information Station on the Big Island will be reduced from seven to four nights a week beginning on April 17, 2017.

The change was necessary because of concerns for public safety and budget constraints.

The number of vehicles on Maunakea has surged significantly in recent years. The VIS has parking for about 115 vehicles, and vehicle counts now surpass 200 on busy evenings.

“The parking lot routinely fills up, and many evening visitors are now parking on the narrow road shoulders and adjoining natural areas, which can be dangerous and damage the environment,” said Stewart Hunter, general manager of the Maunakea Observatories Support Services. “And the peak tourism season is still to come.”

Reducing the number of evenings for the stargazing programs is the best option to ensure visitor and employee safety and protect natural and cultural resources.

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Maunakea Observatories Support Services also cannot afford to continue to adequately staff stargazing every day of the week.

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In March 2016, the VIS had to increase staffing and began hiring special duty officers to help the Maunakea Rangers control traffic and parking.

Stargazing will be held on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights (weather permitting), and there will be no stargazing on Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights. Parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis, and once the parking lots are full, vehicles will be turned away.

Visitor traffic to Maunakea was sparse for decades when Saddle Road was a winding, marginally paved road with many single-lane bridges. For years, rental car companies did not allow their vehicles on the road, but those restrictions were lifted after the vast majority of Saddle Road was upgraded between 2002 and 2016 to meet federal highway standards.

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