Hawaii's National Parks Get A New Director

Frank Hays arrived in Honolulu a few months ago. He is one small man with a very huge task. His recent promotion as the new Pacific Area Director for the National Parks Service, makes him solely responsible for managing all eleven National Park locations throughout the Pacific (8 are in Hawaii). Sound like a lot of work" You try explaining 365,000 acres to millions of tourists annually, all the while keeping them clean (the acres, not the tourists). Pop Frank Hays' forest ranger cap on your head for day--and a receding hairline will become the least of your worries. A tourist covered by molten lava, the deterioration of sacred Hawaiian burial grounds and invasive species are just the tip of the iceberg.

B on Hawaii: Tell us, Frank, what brought you out here in the first place?

Frank Hays: Hawaii has 8 National Parks, plus one in Saipan, one in American Samoa and one in Guam. It's the 90th birthday of the federal government's designation of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. With all the attention--not to mention a nationwide overhaul of the U.S. National Parks Service Web site--someone decided that it was time to streamline and maintain the Pacific Region's National Parks. I was a resource manager at the Grand Canyon, followed by the director of Manzanar [a Japanese-American internment camp at 4,000 ft. in the eastern Sierra Nevada's]. Someone thought I was the man for the job.

B on Hawaii: Seems like a daunting task. What does that task involve, really?

Frank Hays: Well, quite a bit. We're gearing up to start a $40 million renovation project to change the entire visitor experience at the USS Arizona Memorial, in addition to a new educational center there. We've hired a new security firm to cut down drastically on the thefts taking place regularly in the parking lot--that problem's almost fixed. The renovations will start a year from December. 

    Second, at the Puukohola Heiau [a heiau is a sacred stone place of worship], we're about to open a brand new visitor facility. It explains in depth how the heiau is known as the Temple of the Hill of the Whale, built over 200 years ago by Kamehameha the Great.

B on Hawaii: Tell the readers what your ultimate goals are while here in Hawaii. What do you want to do for the parks and the people who visit them?

Frank Hays: I'm here to make sure that the visitor services options at each park are not only in great shape, but have clear signage that really helps people understand what is in that they are seeing. Unlike other parks that are simply aesthetically beautiful, there's a lot of history entwined with culture and geography here in Hawaii. And people should know what occurred at the sites they are standing in. People should come away with a real understanding of the land, it's people who settled it, and how it came to look as it does today.

Second, I want to make sure that everyone in Hawaii realizes all the resources that are available to them at each location. It takes a lot of time and money to maintain them--everyone should at least know what's out there.

B on Hawaii: Let's hear about some of your favorite spots within the parks on Hawaii.

Frank Hays: Well, I haven't been here that long, so I have yet to explore every nook and cranny. But Kalaupapa on Molokai is so beautiful and isolated. There's nothing like it. 

[Editor's Note: Kalaupapa is a settlement on the island of Molokai where Father Damien de Veuster dedicated his life to ministering to the sufferers of leprosy, who were condemned to the region in the late 19th Century.

More than 8,000 people were removed from their families and sent to Molokai, in order to prevent further spreading of the incurable (at the time) disease. Interesting Fact: Although a cure was discovered in 1946, a handful of descendants still live in a small community near Kalaupapa--a village that sits at the base of the world's tallest sea cliffs. Visitors to Molokai can see the giant cross erected in honor of Father Damien and the leprosy sufferers via helicopter or mule tour.]

Frank Hays: Another favorite is watching the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala on Maui. First, you see this great shadow lifting from over the Pacific. And then, you get these amazing colors that creep up the volcano, shooting all sorts of tones through the cloud layers. Finally, I will look around at everyone's faces all lit up and glowing. Some of the expressions I see are priceless. It's really amazing.

[Editor's Note: Haleakala is Maui's dormant volcano which composes the entire east side of the island and reaches over 10,000 ft. high. There is a 3,000 ft. deep crater at the top, with a circumference of 21-miles--it could easily hold Manhattan. There are rare plant and life forms within the 36-miles of hiking trails that exist only at this location, set against a backdrop that includes 1,000 ft. high cylinder cones that rise to the sky.

Interesting Fact: The crater happens to be one of the driest parts on Maui, with less than 10 inches of rainfall per year. Conversely, the other side of the same mountain accumulates more than 400 inches of rain per year, among the most on the planet.]

B on Hawaii: Thanks Frank. Keep up the good work. See you in the park.

Frank Hays: I hope so!