Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park sign
Backstory and Context
Beginning around the year 300, the Hawaiian Islands were settled by Polynesian migration. Dominated by the chieftain class, Ancient Hawaiian society was highly stratified with a strict caste system. The people also maintained a rich oral history tradition that was passed down through dance, song, and chant. These volcanoes were part of that tradition, as ancient Hawaiians would travel to their summits to make offerings during eruptions.
Within Hawaiian legend, Kilauea is the home of the volcano goddess Pele. Even after their religion was abolished by the ruling government in 1819, the Kilauea summit caldera remained an important cultural and religious site to Hawaiians.
In the late 19th century, interest in the volcanoes was closely tied to tourism. Lorrin A. Thurston, the grandson of the missionary Asa Thurston, who was one of the first Christian missionaries to Hawaii, became a tireless advocate for the establishment of a national park after investing in hotels that had been built along the rim of Kilauea.
Hawaii National Park was established by Congress through a 1916 law signed by President Woodrow Wilson. The original legislation included part of the current Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui. Both parks became separate entities in 1960. Lands totaling more than 115,000 acres were added to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in 2004. In 1980, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural organization (UNESCO) named Hawaii Volcanoes National Park an International Biosphere Reserve because of its outstanding scientific and scenic values.
The park was recognized for its important volcanic sites, its volcanic island ecosystem, and its cultural and historic sites. In 1987, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This was done with the idea to recognize and protect the park in which has outstanding natural, historical, and cultural values. More than 1.5 million tourists arrive each year to see Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.
Hamilton, Dwight. History of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Park History. NPS. February 28, 2015. Website. https://www.nps.gov/havo/learn/kidsyouth/park-history.htm