A section of Crater Rim Drive in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park that was closed in 2008 for safety reasons has reopened to the public--but only for foot traffic. The route provides an easy walk that offers excellent views of some of the park's key features.
Park officials closed a section of Crater Rim Drive from Jaggar Museum to Chain of Craters Road, along with nearby portions of Crater Rim Trail, after Halema'uma'u began to erupt in March 2008. The problem involved poor air quality and potential public safety hazards from fumes released by the eruption. Halema'uma'u continues to erupt, and Crater Rim Drive remains closed from Keanak'ko'i to Jaggar Museum
Now, thanks to improved ability to monitor air quality, approximately 0.8 miles of Crater Rim Drive near the Devastation Trail parking lot to Keanak'ko'i Crater has been reopened to foot traffic. According to a park spokesperson, visitors can now "enjoy an easy roundtrip walk through koa and 'ohi'a forest on pavement all the way to the Keanak'ko'i Crater overlook. Across the road, another overlook provides panoramic views of Halema'uma'u Crater and Mauna Loa."
The park has also reopened about 0.7 miles of Crater Rim Trail from Chain of Craters Road just north of Lua Manu Crater. "This section of trail winds through native forest, along the flows of 1974, and culminates at the south side of Keanak'ko'i Crater. Both routes offer an abundance of diverse and breathtaking views."
If you're a "mainlander" and find navigation a bit daunting due to those unique place names, a variety of park maps available at this link will help you get your bearings.
"Thanks to a new sulfur dioxide monitoring network, and an increase in air quality monitoring tools at our fingertips, we can effectively evaluate air quality conditions," said Park Ranger and Chief of Interpretation Jim Gale. "We encourage park visitors to take advantage of the newly opened section of road and trail," he said.
"Keanak'ko'i Crater likely formed during the 1400s, during K'lauea's great summit collapses. Until 1877, Hawaiian kahuna kako'i (carving experts) sought the crater's superior and rare basaltic rock for making ko'i, or adze heads. Bound to a sturdy 'au ko'i (wooden handle), this valuable tool was used to carve vital objects like canoes and houses. But the famous adze quarry was covered by lava, first in 1877, then again during the fissure eruption in July 1974. Today, the crater floor is 115 feet deep."
The restored public access comes with a caveat: The Keanak'ko'i area may still experience high levels of volcanic fumes with changing wind conditions. Should this happen, the park will temporarily close the site to visitation.
Smart phone users who want to check current levels of sulfur dioxide can look for interpretive signage in the area which features a QR code; that code connects to the Hawai'i SO2 Network website. That information is also available to anyone with internet access at this link.