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Eruption creates uptick in visitors: National park getting up to 2,500 people per day

Visitors are gradually returning to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as Kilauea’s latest eruption continues.

The volcano began erupting again Sept. 29, only a few months after the previous eruption ended in May. And with the return of lava to Halema‘uma‘u crater has come the typical influx of park visitors.

“We’ve had increased visitation for this time of year,” HVNP spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said Tuesday. “Usually, this is a slow time of year, and compared to the first months of the last eruption, we’re seeing numbers a bit lower than that. … But we’re estimating about 2,300 to 2,500 visitors a day.”

The previous eruption began in December of 2020, which falls within the park’s busiest season.

Ferracane said during the last “normal” year — 2017, when there was still liquid lava in the park, but no devastating lower Puna eruption or global pandemic to deter travelers — HVNP had about 2,700 visitors per day.

The mild influx in visitors has led to a minor boost for local businesses.

Tom Smith, owner of the Ohelo Cafe in Volcano, said he is currently receiving about 35%-40% of the customers in a typical year, compared to the 30%-35% he had before the eruption began.

“We’re still limited to half-capacity,” due to COVID-19 restrictions, Smith said. “We don’t have space to add another table and keep six feet apart.”

Smith said not all eruption-seekers end up going to Volcano businesses. He said Ohelo Cafe’s customers currently are divided evenly between locals and visitors. However, he said, with vaccinated international travelers now allowed to visit Hawaii without being required to quarantine, he hopes to see a wider array of patrons.

“We would see a lot of people from Sweden or Scandinavia, for some reason,” Smith said. “And a lot of Spanish visitors, and, of course, Japanese and Chinese.”

Ferracane said she expects the number of visitors to rise as the holiday season approaches, although current circumstances could lead to traffic congestion issues in the park. The former Jaggar Museum parking lot currently is closed for the safety of a pair of nene nesting in the area, taking 69 parking spaces out of commission.

“We tried closing only part of it, but the nene obviously didn’t get the memo, and he was running all over the place,” Ferracane said. “So, because we were afraid somebody would run him over, we had to close the whole thing.”

And, of course, Ferracane said, there is no telling when the eruption may end. On Monday, she said, the volcano took a “Pele power nap,” where there was no lava in the crater and monitoring instruments indicated ground deflation, which could indicate an imminent pause in the eruption.

“But as soon as we got that messaging out on social media, there was summit inflation again, and now the crater’s just as beautiful as before,” Ferracane said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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