(BIVN) – The Maunakea Visitor Information Station, popularly known as the VIS, will close before dark and suspend nighttime stargazing beginning on Sunday, December 9, as a new improvement project is set to begin.
The University of Hawaiʻi announced the VIS will adjust its closing time from 10 p.m. to 5 p.m. Although stargazing will stop, the VIS restrooms will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Preparations will begin in December with construction slated to start in January 2019. The project is expected to take about six months. UH says the project “will improve visitor safety and to better protect natural, historic and cultural resources.”
According to the university:
VIS will continue to work with ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, County of Hawaiʻi and other partners to bring both live and remote stargazing opportunities to other locations on the island. During the project, VIS will be collecting data on how the modified hours impact visitor experiences. This data will be used to develop new, Hawaiʻi Island-oriented programs. These may include free reservation-based weekly stargazing programs specifically for island residents and educational groups, and other opportunities for visitors.
The infrastructure project includes the construction of a new paved parking lot with 42 stalls, entry and exit lanes to the parking area, a new greenhouse for propagating native plants and the removal of an existing structure, known as the Upper Longhouse.
The improvements are necessary as the VIS has experienced a significant increase in visitors due, in large part, to Saddle Road improvements that have made Maunakea much more accessible. This has resulted in vehicles parking on the shoulder of Maunakea Access Road and visitors crossing the street in the dark. By better managing vehicular and pedestrian traffic, soil erosion in sensitive areas will be reduced, and fragile natural resources will be better protected.
A hearing on the Conservation District Use Permit for the project was held in February in Hilo.