The Hanalei River, on the north shore of the island of Kauai, flows 16 miles through one of America's most scenic, biologically unique, and culturally significant regions. It begins 3,500 feet up on the slopes of Mt. Waialeale -- which receives more than 450 inches of rain a year, making it one of the wettest places on earth. Draining a 23-square mile watershed, the river runs 16 miles through pristine wilderness, pastures and cropland, emptying into crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay, renowned for its white-sand beaches.
The river drains a lush valley populated by uniquely Hawaiian plants and animals, many of them endangered. The valley also contains a number of archeological historical sites reflecting traditional Hawaiian culture and practices, which continue to shape life along the river today. For instance, the valley produces 60 percent of the state's supply of taro, a traditional Hawaiian staple.
The lower portions of the river form an estuary that serves as a nursery and habitat for a number of fisheries in the highly productive waters of Hanalei Bay. The Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge provides essential habitat for endangered Hawaiian waterbirds. The area's unique and abundant natural resources draw a growing number of tourists, hikers, campers and kayakers.
Because of the beauty of the area and the variety of wildlife, tourism is also increasing, raising new issues. Recreational commercialization is increasing, presenting a challenge of ensuring that small family owned businesses can thrive.
Community Action Plan
The Hanalei community is working to preserve traditional lifestyles and protect unique natural resources in the face of increasing population and economic pressures for development. Designation as an American Heritage River provides an opportunity for local governments and stakeholders to establish a forum for resolving potential conflicts over use of the river. The stakeholders will work together to collect data, distribute information, and develop a community-based management plan that includes land acquisition, public access, local input, and identification of projects needed to implement the plan.
Michael H. Kido, Hawaii Stream Research Center, University of Hawaii (808) 822-8984