On August 1, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the country’s 13th national park into existence – Hawaiʻi National Park. At first, the park consisted of only the summits of Kilauea and Mauna Loa on Hawaiʻi and Haleakalā on Maui.
Eventually, Kilauea Caldera was added to the park, followed by the forests of Mauna Loa, the Kaʻu Desert, the rain forest of Olaʻa and the Kalapana archaeological area of the Puna/Kaʻu Historic District. (On, July 1, 1961, Hawaiʻi National Park’s units were separated and re-designated as Haleakala National Park and Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.)
On-the-ground administration of the park began with the arrival of Superintendent Thomas R Boles in April 1922. Boles’ designation was made effective two months before he entered on duty.
Born in Yell County, Arkansas, he was the son of Judge Thomas and Catherine (Keith) Boles (his father voted in favor of the establishment of the world’s first national park, Yellowstone, back in 1872.)
Boles was educated in the grammar and high schools of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and took a civil engineering course at the School of Mines, University of Missouri.
For a few years, Boles was involved in various construction and engineering endeavors, as construction engineer for the Illinois Steel Bridge Co, in Arkansas and Oklahoma; assistant field engineer, Interstate Commerce Commission; chief engineer, Fort Smith Light & Traction Co., and chief engineer, Fort Smith & Western Railroad Co. (Nellist)
Boles arrived in Hawaiʻi in March, 1922; he became the first superintendent of the Hawaiʻi National Park, appointed to the position by the Secretary of the Interior. He has jurisdiction over a total area of 118,000 acres of the volcanic area of the Territory.
At the same time the Park was created (1916,) the military opened a rest and recreation Camp within the Park boundaries – the Kilauea Military Camp (KMC.)
KMC was the military’s rest and recreation facility on the Island of Hawaiʻi; it was situated on about 50-acres within the Park boundaries.
A military landing field was constructed on volcanic sand at the area called Sand Spit Horst, located just south of Halemaʻumaʻu crater. It was referred to as Kilauea Airfield.
However, shortly after completion, on the morning of May 11, 1924, a ranger from Hawaiʻi National Park noticed several hot boulders on the rim of Halemaʻumaʻu. Evidently, a small explosion had occurred in the pit overnight.
The park superintendent, Thomas Boles, put up roadblocks a half a mile from the crater and ventured out to investigate with two other observers.
Boles was within 10 feet of rim when he heard a “thud” followed by a “prolonged whooosh.” Thousands of red-hot boulders shot up amidst a fury of black ash. The ash column rose 3,000-feet above the crater.
Fortunately, all three made it back to their vehicle, sustaining only a few cuts and bruises. They found that a boulder weighing nearly 100-pounds had sailed over the vehicle during the explosion, landing more than 2,000 feet from the crater.
They pushed the roadblocks back 2-miles from the crater.
Similar events followed; the largest occurred on May 18. The dark, mushrooming column “loomed up like a menacing genie from the Arabian Nights.” Static electricity generated between ash particles produced streaks of blue lightning and condensed steam mixed with the ash to create a rainstorm of gray mud. (Boles; NPS)
Truman Taylor, a young accountant from Pahala sugar plantation had slipped past the road blocks set up by the Superintendent and was within 2,000-feet of the rim (near today’s Halemaʻumaʻu parking lot) when the explosion occurred.
He was hit by a boulder and severely burnt by the falling ash. Rescuers hurried in to the caldera when the explosion ended some 20 minutes later, but the unfortunate man died on the way to the hospital.
Scientists estimate that approximately 400 million cubic meters (520-million cubic yards) of magma shuttled down the east rift zone conduit in 1924. That’s enough magma to fill 265,000 Olympic swimming pools. (USGS)
A news article in March 1925 reported that a New Army field was under construction on the bluff between Uwekahuna and KMC (Hilo Tribune-Herald 1925.) The new field was named Boles Field after the park superintendent, Thomas R Boles.
Although originally anticipated to be in a much more desirable location than the original Spit Horst field, it was almost immediately found to be dangerously short, and was evaluated in a report on landing fields on the island of Hawai‘i (Hawaiian Department 1925:)
“I ‘shot’ the field and found the wind currents so treacherous and uncertain that it was next to impossible to land short without a good chance of being dashed to the ground prematurely. Personally, I would rather trust my parachute than use this field.”
The location of this second field has been variously identified as “outside Kilauea Crater about one half mile North-East of Uwekahuna toward KMC, close to the belt road” and “west of the great Kilauea Crater” (Hilo Tribune-Herald 1925.) (NPS)
The field remained in use for fifteen years primarily for recreational purposes. As part of its war planning, the military surveyed several sites on Hawaiʻi as possible airfields and emergency landing strips. The optimum site was Keauhou, though cost ultimately prevented its development.
Other fields, notably Morse Field at Ka Lae (South Point,) became the primary airfields for the military in Hawai‘i. The military and NPS approved the existing airfield at Kīlauea for emergency use, but the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) cautioned that it was unsafe for military aircraft.
In 1941, following the Pearl Harbor attack, Civilian Conservation Corps workers assisted the military in plowing and obstructing the single field to render it unusable by the enemy.
Nearly two years later, in December 1943, the Army leveled the field again to use as a training site for spotter planes employed in exercises at the Kaʻū Desert Training and Impact Area.
The Park Service indicated in August 1945 that airfield were incompatible with NPS policy; in 1946, the CAA concluded there was no need for an airfield in the park, a policy later reinforced by legislation. (Chapman) (Boles retired from the National Park Service in 1951.)