Haleakala National Park extends ban on downhill bicycle tours, permits vehicle tours to summit

By: Karla Aronson

In a decision announced March 18, Haleakala National Park on Maui extended its more than five-month moratorium on commercial downhill bicycle rides in the Park until at least 2009. However, the Park will permit five affected guided bicycle tour operators to conduct vehicle-only tours to the Park’s 10,000-foot summit.

“We are very pleased (Haleakala National Park Superintendent) Marilyn Parris has allowed us back in,” said Jon Thuro, owner of Maui Mountain Cruisers. “We have worked with the Park since day one (of the bike tour operations), in 1983.”

Similarly relieved, Petra Johnson, co-owner of Bike it Maui No Ka Oi, which had closed shop awaiting the Park’s decision, said her company was happy to be back in business.

Since the ban was enacted October 10, 2007, following a client fatality, four of the five permitted downhill bike tour companies began launching their guided bike tours at the lower elevation, 6,800-foot Park entrance. In the interim, the companies were obliged to contract with other permitted vehicle tour operators to provide clients van rides to the summit. Two unguided, commercial bicycle tour operators who held vehicle permits for van tours to the summit continued to launch their self-guided bicycle tours at the park entrance. Individual bike riders are still allowed to ride to and from the park entrance and the summit. See TravelAge West article “Hit the Brakes, Feb. 18.)

All of the companies had been hard hit economically by the Park’s sudden ban on the downhill volcano bike tours within its borders. As many as 90,000 clients sign up for the tours annually. Bike company representatives said it would be a slow build to return to their prior business levels. During a meeting held March 18, Park superintendent Parris informed the companies the moratorium would hold for a year to a year-and-a-half, they said.

The final fate of the commercial bike tour industry in Haleakala National Park will be determined by a complete review of the activity under the Park’s Commercial Services Plan, initiated in mid-2006. As part of the commercial services review, all impacts of the bike tour industry operations in the Park, beyond just safety considerations, will be evaluated, including the Park’s resources and values.

The safety report undertaken by Haleakala National Park stated the commercially guided bicycle tours “posed moderately high risks to the tour participants” and “an unacceptably high risk to park visitors.” Among 15 proposed standards possibly to be required of the companies, the report listed limiting total group size, evaluating the number of trips per day (formerly 40 trips per day, 19 of which were at sunrise), and establishing a permit condition prohibiting third party bookings. (Visit www.nps.gov/hale to read the full reports.)