Akaka Falls re­pairs un­der­way

West Hawaii Today - - Local News - BY JEFF HANSEL Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@ hawai­itri­bune-her­ald.com.

Al­bizia trees that fell wrongly in Fe­bru­ary at Akaka Falls State Park caused nearly $300,000 in dam­age dur­ing in­va­sive species re­moval — and it will be De­cem­ber be­fore re­pairs are com­plete.

The state Depart­ment of Land and Nat­u­ral Re­source made that an­nounce­ment Wednesday.

Akaka Falls “plunges 442 feet into a stream- eroded gorge,” the DLNR’s an­nounce­ment says. It’s a ma­jor draw for tourism.

Al­bizia in the park had grown to a tow­er­ing 150-180 feet and posed a dan­ger to pass­ing tourists be­cause the trees are no­to­ri­ous for spo­rad­i­cally drop­ping limbs. Dur­ing re­moval of the trees, es­ti­mated to be only about 12-15 years old, the trees fell the wrong di­rec­tion and dam­aged side­walks, rail­ings and steps.

The tree re­moval com­pany’s in­sur­ance is cov­er­ing re­pair costs, the state said in June.

The park’s long­est — and most in­tense — trail has been closed since Fe­bru­ary. But the park con­tin­ues to see a steady stream of visitors tak­ing the short route to view Akaka Falls daily. They pile from tour buses and pri­vate ve­hi­cles to traipse to the view­ing area.

Re­pairs al­ready be­gan along the short route, where side­walk was dam­aged and rail­ings knocked down. The DLNR named Site En­gi­neer­ing as the con­trac­tor for re­pairs, with an es­ti­mated to­tal cost of $297,400.

Ini­tial re­pair work be­gan last week on the longer trail sec­tion that leads to the scenic view of Kuhuna Falls, the DLNR state­ment says.

The en­tire park will be closed Oct. 16-20 for work on the short route.

“Hope­fully, this will be the only time the park will need to be closed,” the DLNR an­nounce­ment says. “If ad­di­tional clo­sure is needed, an an­nounce­ment will be posted on the Di­vi­sion of State Parks web­site and in lo­cal news me­dia.”

How can the park pre­vent new al­bizias from caus­ing sim­i­lar dam­age in the fu­ture?

“We will con­tinue to mon­i­tor the park for any po­ten­tial prob­lems that may oc­cur due to in­va­sive trees and plants,” said Hawaii Is­land State Parks Su­per­in­ten­dent Dean Take­bayashi.

He rec­om­mends prop­erty own­ers con­cerned about al­bizia on their own land visit the Big Is­land In­va­sive Species Com­mit­tee web­site at www.bi­isc.org/al­bizia.

BI­ISC pro­ject man­ager Springer Kaye said the key to pre­vent­ing al­bizia from get­ting out of hand is to re­plant the area with trop­i­cal or­na­men­tal plants once al­bizias are re­moved. Home­own­ers can mow reg­u­larly to keep them from start­ing in their yards, she said.

Get­ting the forest floor shaded will be es­sen­tial at Akaka Falls, Kaye said, be­cause that will help pre­vent growth of the in­va­sive trees.

“Al­bizia seedlings are re­ally poor com­peti­tors, as long as there’s shade or re­ally dense ground cover,” Kaye said.

Forest Ser­vice re­search in Hawaii has shown “up to 1,200 seedlings will come up in one square meter of bare soil,” she said. But just a hand­ful of seedlings will grow when a sim­i­lar square meter is cov­ered in shade.

Re­gard­less of whether you’re a state park or a pri­vate landowner, Kaye said, reg­u­larly cut­ting down al­bizia trees is im­por­tant.

“You want to take care of them ev­ery year,” she said.

Take­bayashi sug­gested it be even more of­ten.

“Be dili­gent in mon­i­tor­ing your prop­er­ties for young trees and re­move them as soon as they are dis­cov­ered,” he said.

Within a year, an al­bizia tree can grow to a height of 15 feet, Kaye said. Most phys­i­cally fit peo­ple can cut down one at that height.

“Once it gets big­ger than that, it gets to be a real cost,” Kaye said.

Cut­ting down al­bizia trees from parks and pri­vate landowner prop­erty, she said, should be con­sid­ered a “civic duty.”

“We were so sorry to see what hap­pened up at Akaka Falls.”

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