Dear Governor Abercrombie,
As advocates for all forms of outdoor recreation, Oahu’s 500+ climbers are writing to put full support behind legislation recently brought to you by the DLNR that would waive State liability for recreational activities on State land, including rock climbing, mountaineering, bouldering, and rappelling. Such legislation is needed because despite virtually no injuries in the 22 years residents and visitors have climbed at Mokuleia and other areas on Oahu, a single injury in June of 2012 has motivated the DLNR to essentially ban all climbing, impose harsh financial and criminal penalties, and confiscate community-owned safety equipment that had been donated and in-place at our climbing areas for community use.
We hope very much to see such legislation introduced in the next session so that we can resume climbing, which to us is as important as surfing is to surfers. We wish to extend our full support to help get this legislation passed. Over 1,000 people have already signed a petition requesting that the DLNR reopen the area and we believe we can generate even greater support in favor of these bills.
While we have not seen the text of the draft legislation, we have been apprised of its general themes. As we understand it, there are two measures. The first is a general change to the recreational use statute that would provide the state with a waiver for liability from injuries on State land. It was introduced as HB 2464 in the previous session, but did not make it out of the judiciary committee. The same is true for the Senate companion bill. The second is regarding Section 662 and is intended to specifically waive liability for rock climbing and associated sports. We are fully in support of a specific limit on liability for rock climbing in Hawaii, something that would be consistent with how 45 other States approach this recreational activity.
While we await the passage of this legislation, we would also encourage you to request that the DLNR immediately reopen Mokuleia and other popular climbing sites located in the mountains above and accessed through Kaena State Park. The Access Fund, a national rock climbing advocacy group, has offered to enter into a management agreement for these climbing sites with the DLNR that would provide some liability insurance coverage for the DLNR while we work out the legislative issues. The goal of this offer is to allow the areas to be re-opened immediately while the climbing community and the DLNR work out a viable and long-term plan. So far, the DLNR has been unwilling to even discuss this possibility with us, but we would hope you could convince them to do so.
Furthermore, instead of banning climbing outright, we seek your support in convincing the DLNR to remove the monetary and criminal penalties for climbing. We feel that the warning signs at the bottom of the trail informing hikers and climbers of the dangers of possible rock fall are sufficient to absolve the State from liability similar to DLNR’s use of Chapter 82 in placing warning signage in other State locales. It makes no sense that the State would criminalize outdoor adventurers because they enjoy the natural environment. It is our understanding that current rules regarding the provision to recreational users with fair warning are sufficient.
While climbing is not entirely risk-free, climbing is at least as safe as other State-approved outdoor activities such as surfing, kiteboarding, or paragliding. Indeed, our climbing areas have been voluntarily maintained and we have self-imposed safety measures not seen in any other climbing area in the world. Certainly, minor accidents do happen, yet when compared to the accidental death and injury rateoccurring in the oceans almost daily, there is no significant threat from rock climbing in Hawaii. Hawaii does have the second highest drowning rate in the nation and yet the beaches remain open to water activities. It is unclear why a different approach would be taken with a far less dangerous activity in the mountains. Imagine the uproar of the surfing community if the State closed Sunset Beach and Pipeline - Oahu’s climbers feel no less passionately about access to Mokuleia and our other Northshore climbing sites. The unilateral closure of all of our Oahu climbing sites has been devastating to our climbing community.
We understand we live in a litigious world where everyone is afraid of lawsuits. However, we also live in a world where people seek to explore, push their physical limits, and live outside the boundaries of personal safety. The State’s solution should not be to close public lands to public access because of a fear of liability or injury. The laws and policies in Hawaii should be framed in such a way that assumed risk is clearly emphasized and the State’s job ought to be to ensure the basic maintenance of our public trails and park systems.
Since the early 1990s, Oahu’s climbing community has carefully stewarded our few climbing sites, emplaced world-renown safety measures at these sites, coordinated with the local fire department and external experts on review of our safety measures, and coordinated with DLNR regarding our activities while seeking approval. Climbers in Hawaii and around the world are an avid and dedicated community – it is as much a lifestyle as it is a sport. To be in the mountains and to climb is more than a physical exercise - it is a spiritual awakening to the flow of mind and body. To be deprived of access does direct and personal harm to those of us who depend upon climbing to free our minds and bodies amid the wonder that is our natural world.
We urge you to introduce the legislation, direct DLNR to open climbing again with the insurance policy offered by the Access Fund, and also to invite climbers to play a role in developing management plans for recreational use.
We would like very much to meet with you to discuss these issues in more detail.
The Oahu Climbing Community