Clintons trek around Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park during Big Island visit
February 28, 2023, 4:00 AM HST
* Updated February 28, 9:55 AM
There’s something about being in the right place at the right time.
Angie Jurewicz Gavin and her family stopped at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park last week while visiting from Encinitas, Calif. While traveling from Kona, they made a few stops along the way on Feb. 22, snacking on malasadas and seeing turtles and the black sand at Punaluʻu beach in Kaʻū. Once they reached the park, they hiked in a lava tube and took in other sights during the day, eventually making their way to the Kīlauea Visitor Center.
It was raining. A couple of Kona Lows had already saturated much of the eastern half of the island for several days by then and rain continued to fall, but the family — who spent a couple of nights in a glamping tent near the park — was totally prepared. Photos in a Feb. 24 public Facebook post show them all wrapped up in rain gear and full of smiles.
Another photo in the collection, however, shows a scene Gavin and her family might not have expected while on their trip.
“Oh yeah,” she wrote in her post. “When we were at the national park visitor center, we saw Bill Clinton!”
Turns out, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weren’t just on the Big Island last week for the blessing of the Grace Parish Center at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish in Kailua-Kona.
Gavin’s pic shows several vehicles parked in the visitor center’s parking lot and has “Bill” written on the bottom with an arrow pointing up to a white minivan where she and the family spotted the former president. What looks like a police vehicle, with a familiar blue light on top, is parked to the van’s left.
“Last Monday was Presidents’ Day, but so was Wednesday in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park!” says a Feb. 26 post on the park’s Facebook page.
The Clintons visited the park with their daughter Chelsea and her family, along with a security team. The park’s post says the wet weather didn’t dampen their enthusiasm as they took in steaming views of Kaluapele, the caldera of Kīlauea volcano, and walked through Nāhuku, the Thurston Lava Tube, and the rain forest.
“The former president also shopped in the Hawai‘i Pacific Parks Association store and graciously took photos with admiring park visitors,” the park’s post says. The association’s store is inside the Kīlauea Visitor Center.
The main photo accompanying the post shows Mr. and Mrs. Clinton during their visit posing with three of the park’s law enforcement officers on Crater Rim Trail near Kīlauea Overlook. Everyone is smiling and one of the rangers is throwing a shaka.
It wasn’t the first time a U.S. president has visited the park.
Richard Nixon, a U.S. senator from California at the time, and his wife Pat explored the park in 1952 and were photographed near Nāhuku. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, draped in lei, visited the park in 1934. He and his sons Franklin Jr. and John motored around with Hawaiian Volcano Observatory founder Thomas A. Jaggar and Thomas Wingate, the park’s superintendent at the time.
According to the superintendent’s report, Jaggar offered Roosevelt ʻōhelo berries picked by Charles Kauhi, a park laborer, so the president could make an offering to Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. The ‘ōhelo berry, an endemic shrub that grows in abundance at the park, was considered sacred by early Hawaiians, who would make offerings of branches with fruit to Pele. The berry is a staple of nēnē, the Hawaiian goose, and the life cycles of two Hawaiian moths depend on the plant. People also eat them, cooked or raw, as a substitute for cranberries, and the fruit and flowers are still used in lei making.
First lady Rosalynn Carter, wife of President Jimmy Carter, also visited the park in June 1977 with their daughter Amy. And while he never visited, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation in 1916 that established Hawai‘i National Park, which then encompassed the volcanic summits of Haleakalā National Park and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.
“We would stamp his Passport Book today for that noble act if we could!” the park says in its Facebook post, referring to the Passport To Your National Parks booklet.
While some were able to catch a glimpse or even meet the Clintons when they were at the park, others just missed their chance.
“Missed them by 3 days!” Jill Moore replied to the park’s post. “Shoot!”