A true Hawaii Volcanoes National Park greeting.
The group figuring out our next day plan.
All ten Wilderness Volunteers were sitting in a circle in our cabin living room. Having just arrived to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we were allowed through the gate, passing a sign that read “park closed due to increased seismic activity”. Us and a select number of park employees were the only ones currently in the 300,000 acre park.
Jordan Barthold, the National Parks employee who had been coordinating with Wilderness Volunteers on this trail maintenance project was also in the room. She explained to us what was happening to the project since the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that struck the big island of Hawaii the previous day. That event had prompted the immediate evacuation of over 2,000 park visitors, and park closure for at least the weekend.
My expectation, knowing the conservative nature of federal land agencies regarding safety, was that the project would be officially cancelled and we’d have just that night to stay at the cabin, and figure out new plans. However, to my surprise, our project was still a possibility according to Jordan. If the seismic activity died down, there was a chance we could delay our project one or two days, and still get in the field to complete the trail work. For the next 72 hours, our fate was determined by the Hawaiian goddess of fire, Pele. Until then, the crew was essentially on house arrest, not allowed to wander far from the cabin, and only leaving the park during pre-planned hours, approved by Jordan.
Scanning the room, the volunteers seemed to be in deep thought, asking only a few clarifying questions. One of the trip leaders, John McLean, then added that there was no obligation for any of the volunteers to make this kind of commitment. Given the unique circumstances, the trip fee would be reimbursed for anyone if they chose to no longer stay with the project. But no one backed out. Given that we were in Hawaii, and there were so many things one could do on the island, it was really impressive to see that level of commitment from the volunteers.
We went around the room giving basic introductions such as names, hometown, history with WV, and by request of volunteer Maren, a food that matched the first letter of their first name. There was John and James our two father and son leaders. Tanya, James’ girlfriend who was currently living on the big island. Ted and Maren, the pair from California that weren’t scared by any mini-earthquakes that we endured. Sayyed, who was also from California, and had already read a great deal about the island before coming. John no. 2 who was a veteran volunteer and this was one of his four projects this year. Deni, who had travelled from upstate New York to do her first Wilderness Volunteers trip, by recommendation of her friend Larry, also present. And me, the intern who’d finished her finals, and left for this project the next day. It wasn’t long after these introductions that we started brainstorming ideas of what we wanted to do with our free time the next day.
Snorkeling in beautiful Kapoho Tide Pools
Exploring the misty Kapapala Forest Reserve (photo credits to Sayyed)
The next day the group split into two day trips. James, Tanya, and I snorkeled and the rest went for a day hike. On our return drive to the park, trying to make it back by the agreed upon time, James notified Tanya and I that the park had reopened, and we would be packing out Tuesday. I was thrilled. Back at the cabin, while helping prep for dinner, I overheard James discussing with Larry the new news, and almost didn’t believe my ears. After catching drift that our project was okayed, the Superintendent of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park stepped in and officially cancelled it, out of concerns for safety.
For at least a moment I’d say most of the volunteers were pretty somber about the cancellation. We wholly understood and respected the decision to cancel the trip, the park has worked with the volcanoes through its entire history and has a deep working knowledge of the system. It was simply a hard pill for us to swallow. Luckily the mood didn’t last long in the room, Tanya and James made an amazing Hawaiian dinner, and we celebrated Ted’s birthday with a beautiful guava cake. Pretty soon we had all started making plans with our newfound time on the island.
In the following days the group started on new adventures. Like most of the volunteers I stayed at the cabin a couple more days before going to other parts of the island. Larry, Deni, and I hiked over misty lava fields and talked to park rangers about the recent geologic events. One night we got dinner at a military bowling alley with John, James, and Tanya. Having all this fun in some ways made not doing the project harder because I enjoyed being with them so much. Luckily there’s still more work to be done in other, less volcanically-active, parts of the US. I’m sure I’ll see them in the field.
Mary is a sophomore at Michigan State University and is the Wilderness Voluneers 2018 Intern. Catch her upcoming blogs throughout the summer!