Tag Archives: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The History of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Kilauea Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Kilauea Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Photo courtesy of Barry Inouye.

Uniqueness of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Almost every national park in America has an interesting story as to how it became one. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii is no exception. But Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s history has aspects to it that are probably unique among the country’s national parks. For example, one of leading proponents in creating the park protected an important Hawaiian natural and cultural treasure. But, at the same time, he was also an instrumental player in the downfall of the Hawaiian monarchy. Also, the park might be the only national park that was later divided into two separate national parks.

Today, visitors from all over the world can still see constant volcanic activity within the park. This is especially prominent in the form of continually flowing lava. The flow has been ongoing since 1983 and adding new land mass to the island. The ancient Hawaiians treated Kilauea volcano and its Halemaʻumaʻu caldera as the sacred home of the fire goddess Pele. The high frequency of its spectacular volcanic eruptions and lava flows have fascinated and intrigued the ancient Hawaiians. But it has also done the same to non-native residents and visitors who were fortunate to see them.

The People Behind the Creation of the Park

One of those individuals was Lorrin A. Thurston. Thurston was a powerful player in Hawaiian politics who was one of the leaders behind the overthrow of  the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. He was also a successful businessman as well as the  founder and publisher of the Honolulu Pacific Commercial Advertiser daily newspaper. This newspaper was the forerunner of today’s Honolulu Star Advertiser.

Thurston had a vested interest in making the area a national park. This is because he had purchased a hotel near the rim of Kilauea Volcano, called the Volcano House. But, he also loved the area and even discovered a lava tube which today bears his name, the Thurston Lava Tube. Thurston leveraged his ownership in the newspaper by publishing editorials in favor of establishing a national park. Such actions would help to protect as well as promote the area. He was the leader of the Territory of Hawaii’s lobbying efforts in Congress, including paying for travel expenses of 50 congressmen to visit the volcano.

However, it was not until volcanologist Dr. Thomas Jagger arrived in 1912, who founded and directed the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, that Thurston’s lobbying efforts became successful. Together, these two individuals were able to convince Congress of the value of creating a national park in the then Territory of Hawaii.

Lava Flow

Freshly hardened lava flow in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Photo courtesy of Barry Inouye.

Official Establishment of the Park

After 10 years of lobbying efforts, Congress passed legislation to create the park. This Congressional action was subsequently approved by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. The park which, was first named Hawaii National Park, became the nation’s 13th national park and was the first that was established within a territory, rather than within a state, of the country. At the time, the park initially only included the summits of Kilauea, Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii and Haleakala on Maui. Later, the Kilauea caldera area was added to the park. In 1960, through an act of Congress, the Haleakala section of Hawaii National Park on Maui became a separate national park, known as Haleakala National Park. While the section of the park on the Big Island then became known as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Worldwide Recognition of the Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is famous domestically as well as internationally. It very popular among the nation’s 59 national parks, often referred to as “America’s Best Idea.” Prominent  international organizations have recognized Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as a scientifically and culturally important site. In 1980, UNESCO named it as an International Biosphere citing it for its important volcanic sites, unique influence on the island’s ecosystem and cultural and historic sites.  In 1987, UNESCO also designated the park as World Heritage Site.