Astronomy enthusiasts fear losing access to Mauna Kea permanently

Two weeks ago, protestors heaved boulders and rocks onto the Mauna Kea Observatory Road in the latest attempt to halt construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), which will some day become the world’s largest. That prompted government officials to close the road off to the public entirely, including the tourists and amateur astronomers who frequent the mountain for its pristine dark skies. No one other than astronomers and construction crews has been allowed up since.

Tour companies say that’s already hurt their bottom line. Such operations bring tens of thousands of visitors up the mountain every year for sunset and stargazing tours. Pat Wright, president and owner of Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, told Hawaii News Now that his company has been offering such tours of the summit for the last 32 years at a cost of $212 a head. But business has plummeted since the road closure.

“Since that time we have been generating about one-third of the revenue that we normally generate, but almost 100 percent of the same costs," Wright told the local news station.

And they’re not the only night owls on the mountain. Each month around New Moon, amateur astronomers set up their personal telescopes outside the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station. The visitor center runs its instruments until 10 p.m., but amateurs often will keep their own telescopes out until dawn. It’s website says the center is closed “indefinitely.” Andrew Cooper, an amateur astronomer who lives in Hawaii and runs the blog “A Darker View,” says enthusiasts also set up their telescopes away from the visitor center.

Both user groups are now concerned this change will become permanent.

Today, Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) will consider a hunting rule change that would restrict nighttime access to the mountain in an effort apparently aimed at protestors. The new rules state:

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