County: Come to Old Saddle Road to see lava, but don’t wander off or leave trash
Mauna Loa woke up nine days ago and has been putting on a show ever since. The crowds keep coming to see the lava flow down the massive mountain, especially at night when the bright orange glow stands out against the dark sky.
Day and night, thousands of motorists are traversing the 4.5-mile viewing route through military grounds on Old Saddle Road to see the volcano’s performance. But some people are trespassing and others are littering — which “could ruin it for everybody,” Hawai’i County Mayor Mitch Roth said during a news conference on Monday.
“On the route, weʻre asking people to stay by their cars and not get out and hike into the fields,” Roth said. “It is dangerous out there. We want people to be safe.”
That is especially the case after the discovery of unexploded ordnance caused the shut down of the lava parking area — which is on the U.S. Army Garrison’s Pōhakuloa Training Area — for several hours on Sunday. The device, which only detonates smoke, was located in the lava rocks approximately 30 to 45 feet off Old Saddle Road.
Mayor Roth also said people should not leave their trash behind: “That is not right. Thatʻs not pono.”
Lilinoe Losalio of Ocean View went up to the mauna to see the lava flow at 3 a.m. on Monday. She said even at that hour there were a lot of people along the viewing route “just doing their own things.”
For Losalio, it included picking up two garbage bags full of trash.
She collected lots of alcohol containers, beverage bottles, cans and glass, metal, wood, plastic, rubber from tires and cigarette butts. She also said she saw old car parts and found drugs right off the side of the parking area.
“It was about three hours of picking up garbage,” she said. “I’m not really frustrated about the trash. Unfortunately, it is a product of people in general.”
She hopes people will see her picking up trash and “be inspired to pick up maybe one or two pieces.”
County officials say Parks and Recreation staff are going through the area twice daily to clean up the area. The county also has partnered with the community to have a dumpster added to ensure adequate areas for collection.
“We’re very appreciative of the way people are cleaning up after themselves and others,” county spokesperson Cyrus Johnasen said.
Days ago, the Hawai‘i County and Pōhakuloa Training Area opened the portion of Old Saddle Road to provide a safe place to view the lava flow and alleviate traffic congestion.
Johnasen said there are no county workers being used to help traffic movement on the mitigation route. However, the county has hired security personnel who will begin working in the area at noon.
The county also requested service members from the Hawaii National Guard to help with traffic control. Former Gov. David Ige granted the request, with 20 service members stationed in the area, starting Monday.
Roth said “quite a large crowd” along the traffic mitigation route on Saturday led to traffic issues.
“We went back and we made some adjustments to our traffic pattern, and hopefully things will be flowing a lot quicker,” he said.
Roth also suggested that people use the restrooms at Gilbert Kahele Recreation Area before entering the viewing zone, although there are facilities available in the viewing zone.
He also said a lot of people tend to stop when they see a spectacular view of the eruption in the first mile of the 4.5-mile route. “The views actually get better the last couple of miles,” he said.
The opening of the mitigation route has reduced the number of crashes on Daniel K. Inouye Highway. On Sunday night, there was one parking citation, one vehicle was towed (because it had mechanical issues) and there were two minor traffic collisions with no injuries, said Hawaii police spokesperson Denise Laitinen.
She said motorists are pretty compliant when they are asked to move along. There is a 90-minute limit to stay in the viewing area.
Emergency Rule No. 2, issued Nov. 30, prohibits parking and traversing or walking on the highway and its shoulders between the 16-mile marker and Highway 190, or Hawaiʻi Belt Road. Anyone who violates the rule could face a fine of up to $1,000.
Laitinen said the Hawaii Department of Transportation will be utilizing the Hilo-bound shoulder lane from the 38-mile marker for the viewing entrance to the lava parking area in case traffic should get backed up. There will be signs posted.
As the lava inches closer to Saddle Road, Hawai’i Island’s main east-west thoroughfare, officials have not said what the threshold is for when they would close the highway. The lava was 2.15 miles away from the highway as of Monday afternoon.
“There [are] a lot of pieces into that equation,” Roth said. “How fast itʻs moving? How close is it going to come to the highway? How long will it take? Is there any dangers that we are seeing? Now we have that one other danger [unexploded ordance] that we have to factor in. If people are going out into the field we may have to close the highway sooner. So we are asking people not to do that.”