Hawaii & Alaska
A handful of Maui residents play and swim at a pond within Twin Falls that usually attracts crowds of visitors. Nonprofit Friends of Twin Falls organized a “locals only” day on April 8 in hopes of trying to balance resident enjoyment with increasing numbers of visitors in East Maui. JAY FRANEY photo

Hi - Locals-only days, hot spot stewards aim to manage East Maui tourism

Twin Falls operators, and visitor agencies are seeking different solutions along Road to Hana

Twin Falls, one of the busier pit stops along Hana Highway, was much calmer last week as farm operators piloted a locals-only day to alleviate some of the overcrowding issues, parking concerns and environmental impacts in the valley.

As drivers and passengers entered the parking lot of Twin Falls from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on April 8, they were asked to show proof of Hawaii identification.

“It went really well, it was a pretty amazing day out here,” Aina Harold, who has worked at the hot spot for over 15 years, said Tuesday morning. “Everybody that came here, majority of them said they hadn’t come here in years and they had avoided the area because it was just overcrowded, so that was one of the comments we heard the most.”

An increasingly popular natural attraction along the Road to Hana, drawing between 250 to 400 cars per day depending on the season, the waterfalls, ponds and trails at the privately owned farm are often jampacked with individuals, families and tour groups.

For the first-ever local event, only about 150 vehicles total entered Twin Falls for the entire day.

Harold said it wasn’t too challenging communicating with visitors about the temporary Hawaii ID requirement. There was a hired off-duty police officer on-site to help facilitate parking and the event was also posted on visitor webpages, like Road to Hana and Maui Bound, to notify tourists ahead of time.

Maile Davis of the nonprofit Friends of Twin Falls said Wednesday that “most tourists were very understanding and ventured to the next stop on the road.”

“Of course, we had some disappointed people but truly, we felt it was supported for the most part,” Davis added. “We want to make it clear we are not against tourism or inviting visitors to enjoy our area, we are simply trying to find that elusive balance for our residents to also enjoy Maui’s natural resources as well in a meaningful way.”

Throughout the day, staff heard about how local families hadn’t been to Twin Falls since they were kids or in many years because of growing overtourism inside the valley and the overcrowded parking areas that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic once overflowed onto Hana Highway.

“Many rejoiced in having the falls practically to themselves, or simply came out to hike and connect with nature,” Davis said. “One nice thing we saw over and over again was locals seeing friends they haven’t seen for a while, by chance, that day. The parking lots were full at times, but it still was seemingly empty on the trails.”

After the pandemic, farm operators decided to cap the number of vehicles in the parking lot at any given time to 80 — 55 paid spots for visitors and 25 free spots dedicated to residents only — in an attempt to manage crowds in a safe manner and maintain space for locals.

Read more.