MIDWAY ATOLL – More than a thousand miles from the closest center of civilization, the pale sands of Midway Atoll peek out above the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean like an oasis. Midway’s natural beauty and its rich history as the site of a critical World War II battle make it an attractive spot to visit. But the atoll, near the end of the chain of the largely unpopulated Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, is one of those places you can’t get to easily from anywhere. If you don’t own a boat or plane for the 1,200-mile journey from Honolulu, the main options for private travel to the distant atoll in 2006 can be daunting: board a cruise in China, hitch a ride with one of a handful of resident government workers, or volunteer for three months of environmental duty. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake Some would-be Pacific island hoppers, especially Pacific war buffs and those who once called it home, think the historic federal possession warrants easier access. Between 1997 and 2001 the atoll received 1,500 to 2,000 tourists and other visitors each year. But public flights to Midway, which is now a national wildlife refuge, ended in 2002 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s sole tourist operator pulled out, citing difficulty making a profit. One of the more luxurious but round-about options for getting to Midway is to book passage on one of up to four cruise ships that anchor outside the atoll each year and ferry those interested across the turquoise water of the 5-mile-wide atoll to Sand Island. But only one cruise is scheduled to stop at Midway in 2006, said Barbara Maxfield, chief of Pacific Islands visitor services for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the island. That’s the Saga Ruby, which leaves Tianjin Xingang in China on a nearly two-month cruise to Southampton, England. Those who boat ashore may be treated to a performance by the atoll’s 200 or so spinner dolphins, so-named for their propensity for spinning leaps out of the water. Cheers from an audience seem to send them to even more impressive acrobatics. On land, visitors will be greeted by members of the world’s largest colony of Laysan albatrosses – about 400,000 nesting pairs – and taken on a four- to six-hour tour of the atoll’s main island. Japanese destroyers shelled the U.S. military base at Midway on the same day Pearl Harbor was bombed, Dec. 7, 1941. The area is better known, however, for the Battle of Midway, which began June 3, 1942. A harrowing three-day fight by American pilots rebuffed a Japanese task force and turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. For the less history-minded, there’s only one beach open for people on the island. The others are reserved for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. But you might find it tough to complain. Gleaming white, gorgeous and empty, the beach on the island’s northern side makes Oahu’s famed Lanikai Beach look like Saturday out at Coney Island. Taking a cruise to Midway could inspire you to take on another means of getting to the island – volunteering. That’s how Eldridge and Thelma Park got here. The retired couple from Aiea, Hawaii, have been busy in the refuge’s greenhouse nurturing native bunch grass, which is being used to restore the natural ecosystem of the atoll’s Eastern Island. “It’s nice, slow. You can get away from the city for a while,” said Eldridge Park, a 48-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service. “I miss the grandchildren though.” Volunteers are expected to stay on the island at least three months, which can be a bit tough for those who require urban comforts or a lot of social interaction. Midway hosts about 40 volunteers throughout the year. With only about four federal employees and fewer than 50 additional staff members, such as cooks and plumbers, it makes for a tight group. Though selection is weighted toward those with a background in biology, it is not necessary. “Basically, if you’re willing to do hard work and do what we want, that’s usually enough,” said Ken Foote, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman. Those tasks include projects keeping tabs on the health of albatross pairs – who mate for life – and ripping the life out of the scourge of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the cute but invasive flower verbesina. Some would-be Midway visitors say there should be more direct and less arduous travel options. Members of groups such as Supporters and Veterans of Midway Island say the Fish and Wildlife Service is thwarting efforts to bring back regular flights in favor of protecting wildlife. “It’s the environmentalists against the Navy veterans. And right now the Fish and Wildlife Service has all the cards in their hand and the veterans have nothing,” said Gary Randall, of Brightwood, Ore., who was stationed on Midway from 1977 to 1979. It may take a year before there’s a regularly scheduled service to Midway again, but the Fish and Wildlife Service is working to get it going, Maxfield said. But the remoteness complicates the effort. “We very much want to share this with the American public. It’s just finding a way to do it in a cost-effective manner,” she said. “When we tell the public that it may cost $1,200 to come out here, can they afford that? We know a lot of people can’t.” While Midway “will never be the Disneyland of the Pacific,” visitors are always welcome, said Barry Christenson, refuge manager. The half a dozen sailors who stop by each year can even look forward to an invitation to the refuge staff’s own bowling alley. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
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