In February of this year, Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth closed the Waipio Valley Road to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, for all but residents.
Officials cited the hazardous conditions present due to the deterioration of the steep roadway. Since that time, road crews have been working on safety improvements for the only vehicle entrance into the popular tourist area, held sacred by many native Hawaiians. Now, Mālama i ke Kai ‘o Waipi’o, a community organization, is suing over the closure citing the need for access for spiritual and cultural practices.
The Waipi’o Valley Road is one of the steepest roads in the United States, with a 45% grade and hairpin turns on the 1.5 mile stretch. Cars can barely pass each other in differing directions on the narrow road, and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is a necessity. Reaction to the closure has been mixed with some applauding the effort to reduce traffic into the secluded valley, and others protesting the closure on cultural grounds. Security guards have been posted at the entrance to the road to check for proof of land ownership or residence.
The black sand beach at the bottom of the road is popular with surfers. Waipi’o Valley, (meaning “curved water” in Hawaiian), now hosts fewer than 100 actual residents, but traffic in and out by surfers, locals, and tourists on any given day could be quite heavy.