Big Island rings in new year with 'Volcano Awareness Month'

By Shane Nelson

Insight logoThe first Sunday of 2010 marked the 27th anniversary of Kilauea's ongoing east rift zone eruption, and in honor of the occasion, Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi declared January Volcano Awareness Month.

Working with both the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Hawaii County Civil Defense, the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has organized a monthlong schedule of guided hikes, evening lectures, teacher workshops, movies and Hawaiian cultural activities all aimed at promoting volcano education and awareness among Hawaii visitors and residents.

"A lot of people come here not knowing much about the volcanoes," explained USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory Geologist Janet Babb. "Most of them have red lava on the brain, and that's certainly understandable. How do you top molten lava? But there's a lot more to these volcanoes than just lava. There's a great beauty here: great ecosystems, lush tropical rain forests, archaeological sites. There's a whole lot to know about these volcanoes."

Events are not only scheduled within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but also at the University of Hawaii in Hilo and on the west side, closer to many of the Big Island's resorts, in Kona. For a complete schedule of activities, along with brief descriptions of each, visit hvo.wr.usgs.gov.

Volcanoes National Park welcomed nearly 1.3 million visitors in 2008, 150,000 fewer than in 2007.

Big Island lava flowAlthough totals for 2009 have not yet been made public, the economic downtrend has certainly had a negative effect on the park's annual attendance figures based on month-to-month comparisons between this year and the last. But according to Mardie Lane, a ranger at Volcanoes National Park, that impact has been far from drastic.

"I think we're holding steady," Lane said. "The park continues to be one of the most popular attractions on this island, if not in the state. Visitors still come in droves."

Over the last 27 years, Kilauea's most recent and continuous eruption has destroyed roads, whole subdivisions full of homes, and the entire town of Kalapana all while delighting millions of visitors and adding nearly 500 acres to the Big Island's southeastern shoreline.

While Kilauea is currently the state's most zealous lava producer, the Big Island is actually home to three active volcanoes. According to Babb, Mauna Loa, or the Long Mountain, is likely to erupt again in our lifetimes, and the west side's Hualalai is far from finished. Some Big Island visitors may, in fact, be more familiar with Hualalai's handiwork than they realize.

Babb said, "If you fly into the Kona Airport, you are landing on lava flows from Hualalai's last eruption," which took place in 1929.

Visitors intent on catching a glimpse of Kilauea's molten lava on its way into the Pacific can find information and driving directions by following the "Lava Viewing" links on the Hawaii Volcanoes website at www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm.

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