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Originally published October 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 4, 2007 at 2:01 PM

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Bike tours halted on Hawaii's Haleakala volcano after third death

The National Park Service has halted commercial bicycle tours within Haleakala National Park, where the ride down the volcano is one of...

The Associated Press

Information

Haleakala National Park : www.nps.gov/hale/

HONOLULU — The National Park Service has halted commercial bicycle tours within Haleakala National Park, where the ride down the volcano is one of the most popular tourist activities on Maui.

Park Superintendent Marilyn H. Parris said the so-called "safety stand-down" was effective Oct. 10 for at least 60 days and needed after last week's fatal bicycle accident, the third within a year.

"With three fatalities and several serious accidents within a year, it is important to stop and critically analyze this commercial activity in the park," she said.

The suspension affects seven companies that hold permits to operate within Haleakala. The permits, known as commercial use authorizations, were terminated. It does not ban bicyclists from riding in the park on their own.

About 90,000 tourists a year pay $100 to $150 for the thrilling ride down the dormant volcano. They are driven by a van to the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala. Without much pedaling, the tourists get on rented bicycles and take a downhill scenic ride for about 38 miles along a two-lane, bending paved highway.

Several of the companies did not immediately comment on the suspension, which is a major financial blow to them. "I understand it's their business. But it's my business to make sure we are providing for the health and safety of visitors who come to the park. It's a core mission of the National Park Service," said Parris, adding the Park Service needs to make a determination if bicycle tours can safely operate in the park.

"Administratively, I feel we've done all we could do," she said. "We required safety plans. We've put more regulations. We've been enforcing more and yet the severity and the number of accidents continue."

Roberta Blake of Amherst, Ohio, was killed last week when she lost control of her bicycle while on a tour and crossed the double yellow line into the path of an oncoming van.

Blake, 65, was on a tour with Maui Mountain Cruisers. The vehicle that struck her was owned by another tour company, Maui Downhill.

In March, a 44-year-old woman was killed when she went off the roadway, and in November, a man died after falling off his bicycle, the National Park Service said.

Two people were also seriously injured in May in separate incidents when they ran off the road and crashed into rocks. One was an experienced downhill bike tour guide.

Haleakala Chief Ranger Mark Tanaka Sanders said the last three accidents occurred during good conditions.

Ben Hall, owner of Haleakala Bike Co., expects a boost in business from the suspension. His company is just one of two bike tour operators with a permit to operate vehicle tours in Haleakala. He will continue operating guided tours inside a van and allow patrons to bike downhill near the park entrance, at about the 6,800-foot elevation.

"I'm going to inherit the spoils. I'm the last guy standing," he said.

Hall, who has operated tours at Haleakala for 15 years, estimates the bicycle tour industry on Maui is a $10 million industry.

The Park Service said operators will have 30 days to respond and provide information before it makes a final determination on the future of bike tours within the park. Parris would not rule out a permanent ban, saying everything is a possibility.

"If we knew the answers, we would have already done it," she said. "I've got to step up, take responsibility and say we need to stop, look at this and make a determination about the future of this industry within our park."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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