Trail-Blazer

Volunteer Mark Hubbard leads a group of dedicated volunteers who’ve taken on the sometimes back-breaking task of maintaining the steep and rocky Hanakapia’i segment of Kalalau Trail

It isn’t Mark Hubbard’s style to grumble. He’s cool. Perhaps it comes from his good, old-fashioned plantation ideology, but his calling seems to be hard labor.

The former director of human resources for Grove Farm Company has a long history with plantations, including Lihu’e Plantation Co. and Oahu Sugar Co. Ltd. His father, Howard, was in that line of work, too, as president of Dole in the Philippines in the 1960s.

Hubbard now spends much of his time “enjoying” his retirement with a laundry list of duties that are enhancing some of the island’s most valiant efforts, including a volunteer program to maintain the Hanakapia’i segment of Kalalau Trail.

That endeavor has, for the past four years, translated every other Saturday into the back-breaking clearing and maintenance of the first two miles of trail which, as anyone who’s hiked it will tell you, feels like the longest 2-mile trek on the island because of its steep and rocky terrain.

“It takes about six hours,” he says. “After hiking in and out with tools, it’s about four hours of solid work.” Alongside Hubbard, Frank Whitman and Bill Newton are in the core team that volunteers steadily.

The work includes a wide array of arduous, repetitive tasks, from creating log steps at Hanakapia’i, where there is trail erosion, to adding log water bars on the switchbacks or widening the trail by removing berms and in slopes. But it’s something Hubbard looks forward to.

“I’m really enjoying being physically active in my retirement,” he says. “All my professional life has been administrative in an office, so it’s nice to get outside and work. It still feels like living the Kaua’i lifestyle.”

Finding that idyllic island life was all Hubbard wanted to do as a kid. After his childhood on Oahu, he attended Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island, which is where he “fell in love with outer islands.”

He then went to Stanford University and studied alongside medical students, where he earned his bach-elor’s in biology, before serving in the Vietnam War as a first lieutenant diving officer on salvage ship duty. He later got a job with Oahu Sugar, and in 1977 came to Kaua’i with his wife, Barbara, and his then-1-year-old son Jeffrey. Sons Mike and David came a little later.

“My career goal was always to live on a neighbor island,” he says. “I didn’t so much care what I did, I just loved the lifestyle.” It’s a lot of work to maintain the trail that is so consistently wet and often used – the trail to Hanakapia’i sees an estimated 350 hikers a day, making the trail the second most-used in the state, after Diamond Head. It leads to the No. 1 most dangerous beach in the state: Hanakapia’i. So making it as safe and usable as possible is something of a priority.

“The whole idea is getting water off the trail sooner so it doesn’t make a trough or create a berm at the edge or leave puddles,” Hubbard says. “Mud will collect against the water bar and build up, and the water will run over it. But with so many people on the trail every day, what that really means is it’s not water that is most damaging to the trail, but people.”

Though the jurisdiction falls under the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to maintain the trail, funds for that purpose have been dwindling.

“We work directly as volunteers with DLNR. We sign waivers, they loan us the tools and they’re very appreciative of the work,” he says.

The volunteer effort came out of a 2009 project headed by now-County Councilman Gary Hooser, who got the grant-in-aid funding from the state Legislature. The proposed idea was that long-term volunteers would take over the maintenance.

The same idea is under way for the longer 9-mile segment of Kalalau Trail from Hanakapia’i to the trail’s end at Kalalau Beach.

It is expected to be completed by the end of November.

“Part of the plan always was to develop and train a volunteer group to maintain the trail,” Hubbard says.

It’s not an easy task, but it is fun, especially for people like Hubbard.

“You’re outside, moving dirt,” he says. “Rocks fall on the trail, so you’re also moving rocks.”

Because it’s such a popular trail, Hubbard admits there are some interruptions. “We do have to stop for the people passing by, so it causes us a little bit of delay. But the nice thing is 95 percent say, ‘thank you,’ as they go by. So you get instant feedback, and it’s great.”

What he seems most proud of is keeping the trail a little safer for people, especially following the Feb. 23 death of 40-year-old hiker Norka Villacorta, who was swept out into the water while crossing the stream. The trail was closed following the tragedy, just as it was closed in December following the search for attempted murder suspect Justin Wynn Klein, who allegedly threw a hiker from a cliff near Kalalau Beach. That, along with the 40 days of rain leading up to the Ka Loko Dam breach in 2006, are the only times the trail has been closed in recent memory, Hubbard says.

When he’s not laboring up Kalalau Trail, Hubbard is busy volunteering throughout the island, including as board member with Friends of the Children’s Justice Center, Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i Inc., Kaua’i Hospice, Friends of Kaua’i Community College, Lawai International Center, Kaua’i Planning and Action Alliance, Leadership Kaua’i and as a commissioner with Kaua’i County Board of Ethics.

“It keeps my brain working a little bit and allows me some mental work,” he says modestly.

He also enjoys time with Barbara, their children and three grandchildren.

Interested in helping? Mark Hubbard could use some more volunteers along the first 2-mile portion of Hanakapia’i trail. If you like hiking and physical work, email markhubbard@hawaiiantel.net.

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