What is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

Jason C. Chavis

Located on the Big Island of Hawaii in the United States, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a federally-protected land featuring two of the most prominent volcanoes in the world: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. While both are active, the latter is known as the largest in the entire world. The area is maintained due to its natural landscapes and distinct ecosystem unlike any other place on the planet. In addition to being protected by the US government, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has the distinction of being a World Heritage Site, defended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The hawaii Volcanoes National Park features two of the most prominent volcanoes in the world.
The hawaii Volcanoes National Park features two of the most prominent volcanoes in the world.

The area of land that is collapsed into the Kilauea volcano, known as a caldera, was worshiped as the hallowed dwelling of Pele by ancient Hawaiians. According to the traditional mythology, Pele is the volcano goddess who controls fire and lightning. Prior to contact with Europeans, Hawaiians would offer gifts to the goddess in an effort to appease her power.

Noted as a beautiful attraction by early missionaries, the area that became the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was identified to western culture in 1823 by William Ellis and Asa Thurston. They were immediately exposed to an eruption, which caused both fear and awe in their reporting. Within two decades, the region became a major tourist attraction. Hotels were built in the late 1800s, prompting a movement to protect the lands from further development. The interest in establishing a park was fought by ranchers in the area, who made money off the exploitation of the fertile volcanic lands.

The grandson of one of the early missionaries, Lorrin A. Thurston owned the Honolulu Advertiser. Leveraging his newspaper's influence, Thurston was able to convince the Secretary of the Interior James Garfield and congressional delegates of the importance of preserving the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. With support from Governor Walter Frear, the national park was signed into law as House Resolution 9525 on 1 August 1916. It became the first federally-protected land outside the continental US.

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has numerous attractions for visitors from all around the world. When a person first arrives at the entrance, he or she is greeted by the Visitor Center, which provides information and details about the park and its amenities. Visitors can tour the Volcano Art Center and the Thomas A. Jagger Museum, featuring a variety of artworks and historical artifacts about the Big Island.

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