Hawaii could soon charge hikers for the cost of their own rescue

State lawmakers in Hawaii are considering legislation that would make some hikers pay for their own rescue when they get lost or endangered because of their own recklessness.

Senate Bill 700 would allow local governments to recoup the cost of search and rescue operations, which can run upward of $10,000. A second bill, SB 363, also working its way through the state Senate, would go further and impose fines for illegally hiking on closed trails and private property.

The legislation, which mimics similar rules in multiple other states including California, would penalize hikers who disregard warning signs, trespass or take other risks in their quest for off-the-beaten-path adventure.

Hawaii, which greets more than 10 million tourists yearly and where tourism makes up nearly one quarter of the economy, would be sending a strong message to visitors. At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has caused a significant drop in tourism-related revenue, the cash-strapped Hawaiian government hopes the bills will reimburse taxpayers for costly rescues and discourage irresponsible behavior that puts both tourists, and their would-be rescuers, at risk.

If either bill passes, hikers who ignore “no trespassing” signs at the head of famous, but off-limits, trails like Red Sand Beach, which sits on private land along Maui’s breathtaking Hana Highway, may soon be risking more than their lives.

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