Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ala Loa - Hawaiian Trail Systems

Throughout the years of late-prehistory, A.D. 1400s - 1700s, and through much of the 1800s, transportation and communication within the Hawaiian kingdom was by canoe and by major trail systems.

Although the canoe was a principal means of travel in ancient Hawai‘i, extensive cross-country trail networks enabled gathering of food and water and harvesting of materials for shelter, clothing, medicine, religious observances and other necessities for survival. 

Ancient trails, those developed before western contact in 1778, facilitated trading between upland and coastal villages and communications between ahupua‘a and extended families.

These trails were usually narrow, following the topography of the land.  Sometimes, over ‘a‘ā lava, they were paved with water worn stones.

Over time, as needs and technology changed, the trails evolved to address these changes.

Various archaeologists note the following evolution of Hawai‘i trails:
  • Pre-contact/Early historical … Single-file footpath … Follow contours of coast
  • 1820-1840 … Widened for one horse … Coastal - curbstones added
  • 1820-1840 … Built in straight lines, inland
  • 1841-1918 … Widened for two horses … Straight, leveled
  •  Late-1800s-early 1900s … Widened for horse cart … Straight, leveled

In 1892, Queen Lili‘uokalani and the Legislature of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i signed into law an “Act Defining Highways, and Defining and Establishing Certain Routes and Duties in Connection Therewith,” to be known as “The Highways Act, 1892.”

Through this act, all roads, alleys, streets, ways, lanes, courts, places, trails and bridges in the Hawaiian Islands, whether laid out or built by the Government or by private parties were declared to be public highways; ownership was placed in the Government (typically, under the control of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.)

Today, trails serve more as recreational features, rather than transportation links.  While I was at DLNR, we oversaw “Na Ala Hele,” the State of Hawai‘i’s Trail and Access Program, administered by DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

It was established in 1988 in response to public concern about the loss of public access to certain trails and the threat to historic trails from development pressure.

The goal of the Na Ala Hele Program is to provide public outdoor recreation opportunities for hiking, biking, hunting, camping, equestrian and off-highway vehicle use.

Na Ala Hele has become increasingly engaged in trail management and regulatory issues due to both public and commercial recreational activities and emerging legal issues.

In addition, Na Ala Hele is charged with locating and determining whether a historic road or ancient trail falls under the Highways Act of 1892.

Likewise, the program is responsible for the inventory, and documenting ownership of specific historic trails and non-vehicular old government roads for public use where it is feasible and culturally appropriate.

There are lots of trails open for public use; Na Ala Hele only administers a portion of them.  Here’s a link to their website:

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