Hawaii residents and visitors flock to our state parks, trails, cabins, small boat harbors and campgrounds to spend time with their families and friends in open, beautiful spaces and utilize the small, local businesses operating in these places.

But if our residents, small businesses and tourism industry rely upon these places, how come they look so junk?

In 2009 DLNR examined the backlog of capital improvements across our statewide system of Parks, harbors and trails. The minimum backlog of capital improvements needed to make a visible difference in Parks, harbors and trails totaled $240 million dollars.
Full report with documentation is available at http://hawaii.gov/dlnr/chair/meeting/submittals/101201/H-ADMIN-Submittals-H2.pdf


The record shows that there has been no reliable capital investment in Parks, harbors and trails over the past two decades, and sporadic investment in harbors.  For example, in 2011 zero dollars ($0) was invested in State Parks, despite their obvious deteriorated condition. That same year the City and County of Honolulu invested nearly $40 million in its parks—an amount over three times the entire CIP allocation for all of DLNR combined.

The lack of reliable investment in repair and replacement leads to facilities that are more costly to maintain, services that are disrupted, and facilities that are unpleasant and even unsafe. The failure to reliably invest in fixing these places is the reason why most of the facilities in our Parks, and trails look the way they do.

On the bright side, the recent surge of investment in Boating and Ocean Recreation demonstrates that the problem is solvable. In the past five years, DLNR replaced over 660 of the 2,000 slips in its small boat harbors. A comprehensive time-limited surge of investment can fix all our parks, harbors, and trails.

Between 1992 and 2010, the General Fund operational budget for State Parks was cut literally on an annual basis to a point where it is now half the level it was two decades ago. The State General Funds for Trails and Forest Access was also halved during this period. While the actual dollars supporting boating and ocean recreation increased, the funds did not keep pace with inflation, and the real dollars supporting operations decreased.


DLNR was unable to establish fees and revenues to keep pace with the relentless annual cuts. Between cuts to the operating budgets and inflation, over the past 20 years:

•        State funds dedicated to operate State Parks were effectively cut more than 38%.

•        State funds dedicated to operate trails and forest access were effectively cut nearly 55%.

•        State funds dedicated to operate boating and ocean recreation were effectively cut nearly 6%.

During these 20 years of annual cuts to operating budgets, State Parks and trails were assigned thousands of acres of more land to manage; Parks, harbors and trails faced increased mandates such as accommodating ADA, environmental and cultural legal requirements; daily use of all these state recreational places skyrocketed as Hawai‘i’s visitors exceeded seven million annually; and all facilities were reaching between 30-50 years of age and in most need of
preventative maintenance.


1. Invest $50 Million per year in Capital Improvements for Five Years to Eliminate the Minimum $240 Million Backlogged Repairs and Replacements

The State can eliminate the backlogged repairs and replacements and make a visible difference in the condition of state recreational facilities on six islands by investing $50 million per year in capital improvements for Parks, harbors and trails for five years.  The list of projects for the first year have already undergone design, which means DLNR can initiate construction on those projects within the first year funds are approved.

2. Restore Operating Budgets to Provide Routine Repair, Maintenance and Secure Operations

A dedicated increase in maintenance and small repairs will reduce the ultimate costs of fixing these areas, keep these places open and operating, and keep our residents and visitors safe. The operational budgets of Parks, harbors and trails should be restored to the levels of 20 years ago, with the explicit understanding that the increases shall be utilized for repair and maintenance of these places.

3. Develop and Asset Management System within DLNR to Protect and Extend the Life of Improvements

Shifting to a centralized asset management system will enable the State to: identify which facilities can be repaired and which require replacement, thereby concentrating capital improvements where most effective; schedule preventative maintenance by region and maximize staff time on comprehensive efforts facility-by-facility; and, centralize purchasing of supplies, equipment and contracts to reduce costs and duplicative staff efforts. Furthermore, public accounting for expenditures, time and results will be readily available and can even be posted on-line.

4. Increased Responsibility Requires Increased Commitment:  New Lands and Recreational Sites Need to Come with Capital Investment and Operating Funding

During the past five years the State acquired over 21,000 acres of new land and assigned DLNR to manage these areas. No new operational funds for these 21,000 acres were allocated; no new dedicated funding streams were identified.  The real cost of land management includes not just caring for the physical assets (buildings; historic sites; etc.), but also the cost of managing the people visiting these areas (Enforcement and compliance; programs; etc.) and the administrative, “back office” support (fiscal, personnel and IT).


1. Use Revenues from Public Lands to Support Open Public Spaces.

In 2009 DLNR identified state lands currently leased for commercial and industrial uses and vacant state lands appropriate for commercial and industrial development that could generate revenues to support the debt service on future capital improvements.  Dedicating revenues from state urban and industrial land leases to repair open public spaces will enable DLNR to support much of the $240 million in improvements from non-taxpayer revenues.

2. User Fees Combined with Restored Operational Budgets will Cover Scheduled Repair and Maintenance

User fees combined with restored operational budgets will cover the scheduled maintenance and asset management necessary to expend and protect the life of the capital improvements.  The adoption of the asset management scheduled maintenance system will provide a disciplined and transparent procedure for allocating revenues and staff time to preventative maintenance; ensuring users receive the benefit of their fees.

3. Strategic Compromises will Stretch Dollars Farther and Finish Improvements More Quickly

The $240 million backlogged repairs are the minimum needed to make a visible difference in state recreational facilities. It does not include the backlog in repairs to base yard and administrative support facilities, or the rapidly aging facilities that will become essential repairs over the next five- to ten-years. Some strategic compromises that will stretch capital improvement dollars farther and use limited staff more efficiently on core areas of importance include:

•        Lower-Cost and Faster Solutions such as prefabricated cabins;

•        Partnerships with Counties, non-profit organizations, and private sector;

•        Structuring DLNR to Strengthen Professional Management Capacity in the most cost-efficient manner.

Submitted by the Recreational Renaissance Team with the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources



Previous articleMarine Corps Base Hawaii to Host Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
Next articleCarlisle Blasts State Rail Study
Hawaii Reporter is an award-winning, independent Hawaii-based news and opinion journal founded in 2001 and launched in February 2002. The journal's staff have won a number of top awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including the top investigative news reporting awards, business reporting awards, government reporting awards, and online news reporting awards. Hawaii Reporter has a weekly television news show, News Behind the News, which airs on Mondays at 1:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.