Officials consider rescue fee, education for adventurous visitors

Kauai Fire Dept. rescued 121 hikers over a two-day period.

The sheer number of people rescued on Kauai will no doubt revive the debate on whether to charge a fee whenever first responders are called in to help.

While no exact monetary figure was immediately available, Kauai Fire Dept. logged 25 trips by helicopter and called on nine firefighters to rescue 121 stranded hikers, including two who stayed overnight with 98 remaining hikers.

The difficulty has been how to balance the needs of an industry that depends on taking people out to enjoy the mountains, forests and the ocean, against the cost and concerns raised when first responders are engaged for a rescue.

KHON2 asked Kauai Rep. Derek Kawakami what lawmakers could do to address this dilemma.

“We’ve floated ideas if somebody is going to be rescued, maybe they should cover a portion or all of the cost of being rescued,” said Rep. Kawakami. “A lot of these individuals refuse to heed warning signs or from locals or individuals with knowledge of the area and its an irresponsible action at times.”

The Eco-Tourism Association’s 100 members make it a point to brief customers first on the environment and the culture of the islands, and to treat nature with respect.

“I don’t think most people that are doing eco-tourism were having problems like that,” said Annette Kaohelaulii, the association’s co-founder and former president. “It’s mostly people going out on their own because they read about it in a book or saw it on the Internet.

“A lot of people come here because they think it’s paradise and wonderful and all that, and they don’t realize there are a lot of risks,” she added.

Rescue personnel on Kauai say they will rescue any and all those who need their help because it’s their job.

“We’re eco-tourism — it’s a draw here,” said Kauai Deputy Fire Chief John Blalock. “The sheer number of people that’s going out is just amazing, so there is an economic benefit because they come out and not only hike the trails, but stay in the hotels and go to the restaurants and are part of the tax base.”

Kaohelaulii says she will have the Eco-Tourism Association meet with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to see what more can be done to warn all those who seek to discover the beauty of Hawaii about the risks they could encounter, both on land and on the water.

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