Hawai‘i Pacific Parks Association Faces Challenges and Responds to Park Needs in Wake of Volcanic Events

By Amanda Keith posted 10-29-2018 04:14 PM


kilauea_usgs.jpgFissure 8 of the Kīlauea Volcano effusing voluminous lava on the Island of Hawai’i.

Photo taken June 22, 2018. Photo Credit: USGS.

On April 30, 2018, Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō, the main vent of an eruption on the East Rift Zone of Kīlauea Volcano, emptied and collapsed. In early May, an eruption commenced on the Lower East Rift Zone and then a 6.9 magnitude earthquake shook the Island of Hawai‘i. Explosive events at the summit of Kīlauea began a few days afterward and the majority of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (HAVO) closed. Ash plumes, some ascending up to 30,000 ft. deposited ash at the summit and in communities downwind.

Most destructively, a series of over 60 near-daily summit collapse events, each the equivalent of a 5.0+ magnitude earthquake, shook the heart of the park and continued until early August. In the neighboring district of Puna, numerous volcanic fissures opened over the course of three weeks, erupting lava fountains, destroying over 700 homes and sending fast-moving rivers of lava into the ocean, creating a lava delta that expanded the island by about 875 acres. (USGS report)

This series of events caused dramatic changes to the landscape, to the broader island community and its tourism-based economy. In a tumultuous time, Hawai‘i Pacific Parks Association (HPPA) has creatively faced challenges as they have continued to provide support to their park partners.

Hawai‘i Pacific Parks Association is an 85-year-old nonprofit cooperating association that strives to inspire visitors and foster meaningful connections to five Hawai’i national parks and the National Park of American Samoa through producing and selling interpretive products and publications. Proceeds from their sales support interpretive services and volunteers, youth programs, species protection, museum activities, research, cultural events and programs.

HPPA’s two main sales outlets, Kīlauea Visitor Center and Jaggar Museum, and its administrative offices, are located at the summit of the volcano. With the closure of the park on May 11, HPPA was forced to evacuate and move as much inventory and equipment as possible out of the park.

According to HPPA Executive Director, Margot Griffith, the time of the evacuation was unsettling and hectic:

“We had to move quickly to secure temporary office and warehouse space to ensure continuity in our administrative operations and with the organization overall. By the following Monday, our administrative team was set up and functional in office space in Hilo. And on May 18, we rented a truck and removed more essentials from our administrative offices, Kīlauea Visitor Center and warehouses,” she said.


HPPA staff wore hardhats and breathing masks as they removed inventory from the park.

Photo Credit: Andrew Richard Hara.

“Jaggar Museum was of particular concern, adjacent to the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO). The museum and HVO were a mere 1.2 miles from an active lava lake, which was an awe-inspiring visitor attraction for ten years,” she explained.

“We were not able to access the museum during the early days of the closure. In June, during lulls between 5.0 earthquakes, we were allowed brief, limited access to the area – first on June 11 to assess our situation, and then for a few hours on June 14 to remove inventory and equipment from our store and storage areas.

“There were short windows of time where park personnel could safely escort us to the museum,” Margot said. “June 14 was a day when USGS staff were also clearing out equipment from HVO, and we noticed they were removing their large cases of historic geologic specimens. That moment brought home for us that it was time to go.”

20180614_ARH-0939.jpegHPPA staff remove as much inventory as possible from Jaggar Museum, not knowing if they'll ever be allowed

back inside the building. Photo Credit: Andrew Richard Hara.

Hawai’i Pacific Parks Association Continues Support After Evacuation

By May 22, HPPA staff were operating retail sales at the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center (MDC) in Hilo at the invitation of HAVO staff and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In addition, HPPA opened an outlet in a local mall (Prince Kūhiō Plaza) and increased their presence at the still-open Kahuku Unit of the park. According to Margot, these locations became a draw for the community seeking to understand current conditions with the volcano.

"Operating at these locations provided a taste of the park experience outside of park boundaries," Margot said. "Park rangers and volunteers in interpretation offered programs and volcano updates for residents and visitors alike."

Margot also explained that in spite of a slowdown in tourism this summer, HPPA leadership made the decision to keep the HPPA staff team intact as much as possible in the event the park should reopen.

"With our two main locations closed and most of the park not open to visitors, it was a challenge to determine how we could sustain the 35+ employees we manage in all of the park areas we serve," she said. "We have had to employ a considerable amount of belt-tightening to our overhead budget and it has been a challenge to continue to provide aid to our park partners,” she said.

A Public Lands Day Celebration as Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park ReOpens

In late August, the park announced its plan to re-open on National Public Lands Day (NPLD) on Saturday, September 22. For HPPA, this meant responding to immediate needs from the park in order to safely welcome visitors.

With NPLD only three weeks away, the Kīlauea Visitor Center had no water and no functional sewage system. There was heavy damage to trails and roadways, and there was a critical need for park rangers to be able to orient visitors to safety hazards, to limited access areas in the park and to the changed landscape.

HPPA printed 55,000 maps for visitors that revealed the immense changes to the park. They also brought in jugs of water from commercial water suppliers and housed park staff who had traveled from Yosemite National Park to assist with traffic control around the time of the opening.


HPPA staff  and volunteers greet crowds of visitors at the Kīlauea Visitor Center on National Public Lands Day.

Photo Credit: Judy Edwards.

Supporting the Park with Long-Term Recovery Efforts

After months of seismic activity, the Jaggar Museum and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory suffered structural damage. By August 2018, the crater of Halema‘uma‘u within the caldera had dropped by more than 1,600 feet with dramatic subsidence on the caldera floor. As a result, Jaggar Museum is closed indefinitely.

“The profound changes wrought to Kīlauea, the landscape of the park, and to the operation of the park and HPPA will echo for years to come,” Margot said. “The community has been heavily impacted and disrupted. Businesses in the neighboring town of Volcano and other communities have experienced significant loss. The Lower East Rift Zone lava flows caused tremendous destruction and dislocation, and there are ongoing needs for food, shelter, and other essentials in the Puna district,” she said.

Now that Kīlauea’s eruptions and earthquakes have paused and the park has partially re-opened, HPPA has turned their efforts to long-term recovery and support.

“Over the last several months, we have strengthened existing relationships and forged new ones,” Margot said. “For instance, NPS superintendents at our other partner parks have allowed us to carry additional HAVO-specific merchandise. In addition, we are especially grateful to Aileen Utterdyke and her staff at Pacific Historic Parks (PHP), and NPS staff at World War II – Valor in the Pacific National Monument (VALR) for allowing PHP to carry some of our sales items and with great success.”

“Adversity has provided opportunity and inspired creativity,” Margot said. “It is unlikely that we will make up the revenue gap from the loss of Jaggar Museum for the foreseeable future but we are optimistic that we will find new ways to garner support for our partners.”


The new landscape of the Kīlauea Summit after a summer of eruptions and summit collapse events.

Photo Credit Janice Wei.

Another way HPPA is supporting the park is through a partnership with the State of Hawai’i to create a specialty license plate program benefiting HAVO and Haleakalā National Park (HALE). This program launched in 2017 and is the first ever such program in the state.

Through this program, $18 of every plate sale and renewal goes back to the parks via HPPA.

“Thanks to our board of directors, its finance committee, and hard-working staff, we are finding our way, and beginning to plan for future income and opportunities. Our goal is to survive and thrive, to enable us to fulfill our mission and serve our park partners for many years into the future.”

To learn more about HPPA's efforts, visit their website at