On Wednesday, after a long fourteen day jury trial before Judge Cardoza in the Maui Circuit Court, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the State of Hawai‘i (State) and plaintiffs Public Access Trails Hawai‘i (PATH), David Brown, Ken Schmitt, and Joe Bertram III, who are the lead plaintiffs in a class action on behalf of all pedestrians in Hawai‘i. The jury found that the State owns—and has always owned—the historic Haleakala Trail. The jury also dismissed Defendant Haleakala Ranch Company (HRC)’s competing claim to ownership of Haleakala Trail, which the State and plaintiffs have long alleged was based on no evidence or law. (Read the breaking Maui News story as well as more below. Also read the Maui News’ summary of the closing arguments from yesterday.)
David Brown, executive director of PATH and one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, said that the jury verdict was “monumental and ground-breaking.” “The court victory today should be celebrated by anyone who wants to recognize, preserve and protect Hawai‘i’s unique and rich cultural past, including Hawai‘i’s historical trails,” Brown explained. Ken Schmitt, another lead plaintiff, added that although Hawai‘i has many laws that protect the public’s interest in Hawai‘i’s historic trails, including the Highways Act of 1892, which places trails in the public trust, the political reality in Hawai‘i is that trails are often neglected and ignored. Schmitt reiterated the importance that this jury verdict had, and in particular applauded the State’s active role in defeating dubious claims of ownership to historical Hawaiian trails.
At trial, the State and plaintiffs presented evidence showing public use and government ownership of Haleakala Trail, including documents from the Hawai‘i State archives, government maps, newspapers, legislative journals, and travel narratives including those from Mark Twain, Jack London and Isabella Bird. There was also expert testimony from Anthony Crook, a professional surveyor, Doris Moana Rowland, the Na Ala Hele State title abstractor, and Richard Stevens, Ph.D., a world historian and expert trail researcher.
Brown said that the jury really connected with the story that the State and plaintiffs presented at trial. The evidence at trial demonstrated that Haleakala Trail was a continuation of a long-established native Hawaiian trail, which connected to an overland pass across East Maui through Haleakala Crater. Westerners began ascending Haleakala Trail long before the Mahele of 1848. Later, the government significantly improved Haleakala Trail through two major public work projects, by the Kingdom of Hawai‘i in 1889 and by the Territory of Hawai‘i in 1905. In 1905, a Maui News article celebrated the improvements to Haleakala Trail, trumpeting that: “It will be of general interest to the people of the Islands to learn that the Haleakala trail is now completed to the top of the crater… Come one; come all: and view this the grandest sight of Maui.” Also, in 1905, guideposts were placed along the trail at approximately every 500 feet. Schmitt explained that many of these guideposts still stand today and were crucial pieces of evidence for the jury to consider.
Brown said that the next and final phase of the trial will determine the issues remaining in the case—namely historic preservation of Haleakala Trail and securing meaningful public access. Emphasizing the importance of this final phase of trial, Brown explained, “We have a moral obligation to protect Hawai‘i’s past, including its rich history of trails. The longer we wait to protect Hawai‘i’s cultural legacy, the greater the risk it will be lost forever for generations to come.”
PATH is a 501(c)(3) public charity. Its mission is “building community ties by connecting people and places through trails, urban paths and bikeways.” PATH’s website is pathmaui.org, and the organization also maintains Facebook and Twitter accounts. At trial, PATH was represented by attorneys Tom Pierce, Peter Martin and Hayden Aluli.
PATH is requesting continued financial support from the public to protect the historic Haleakala Trail, as well as general supporters and members. Charitable donations are fully tax-deductible and may be made to 2525 Kahekili Highway, Wailuku, Hawai‘i 96793.
OR, Go here to make a donation online using Paypal, or to get PATH’s mailing address. Make sure to encourage your friends to help out too.