If you have to be known for something, it might as well be something spectacular
One of our island’s most unique and storied features is our resident active volcano, Kilauea, home of the fire goddess Pele and her thirty-three year long continuous lava flow. It’s one of the most covered and talked about settings on our island, and for good reason. Few other places on Earth are fortunate to have access to such a dynamic, beautiful, and awe-inspiring place as this volcano. Located within the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, images of the lava flow oozing into the ocean or churning inside the crater of Halema‘uma‘u have become ubiquitous, sprayed across the local evening news and across our social media newsfeeds.
But for one park volunteer, the vistas and access to this rugged landscape so many of us take for granted has framed a different viewpoint for his outlook on life. For Eric Fandrick, his approach to making the park more accessible to those of all abilities, all the while showcasing the beauty of this park with his photographs comes from his seated perspective.
After a car accident years ago left him paralyzed from the waist down, Eric has worked hard to reframe his outlook on life. Not only because his perspective literally comes from four feet above the ground, but because he strives to prove that life can be meaningful and exciting, regardless of your physical abilities.
I first came across Eric’s work on Instagram, captivated by his beautiful images of life on the striking southeast coast of the island. His photos capture the wildlife and wild scenery that makes this island so special, and his proximity to the national park has literally lit up his Instagram feed with stunning images of Madame Pele at work. His images provide few clues to the limited access to the beauty of this island — instead, when you look at his work, you can sense that this is a person not confined by the limits placed on him from outside forces. There are beaches, and mountains, and horses, nene (Hawaiian goose), honu (green sea turtles), geckos, summits of near 14,000-ft volcanoes, unfurling ferns, and that magical volcano, Kilauea, lighting up the night sky.
After moving to the Big Island nearly two years ago with plans to start a travel company for others with limited mobility, Eric quickly realized how difficult this idea was to get into action. “The Big Island is like the mainland [in terms of accessibility] thirty years ago. I was hoping to make a difference and open doors for people,” he said. Soon after arriving, he found a job at the national park where he provides information to guests about the volcano, but also information about the accessibility of the park for those who may not be able to navigate the off beaten paths so easily. He speaks enthusiastically about his favorite trails, and warmly shares stories about his favorite storytellers and park rangers.
Because of the park’s ever-changing rugged landscape, there will be parts that simply won’t be accessible to those with limited mobility. But that hasn’t stopped Eric from finding the parts that are accessible and wheelchair “manageable” for those who want to get out there and explore. He uses the term “manageable” for the trails that require some assistance in terms of navigating the terrain and are, perhaps, a little more adventurous. Still, there are almost 10 miles of accessible, ADA-compliant trails for those who want to stay on a more well beaten path, including near the caldera lookout at the Jaggar Museum and Devastation Trail.
Eric’s passion for exploration and the national parks started when he was younger, visiting many parks with his family. Growing up in rural Michigan, he says, made the transition to one of the more remote parts of our state easier. “I’m used to dirt roads, but I’m not used to having to drive an hour just to go to the supermarket!” he says. Eric also considers himself a lifelong learner, and sensitive to the Hawaiian culture. On his first visit to the caldera, he could sense the importance this place had for the Hawaiian people, and he tries to share that with the visitors he talks to.
One of his most important jobs, though, is to open other people’s eyes to people in wheelchairs. “I get the chance to be a visible reference,” he says. His approachable and open nature is helpful, too, as guests are able to come up to him and ask him about the park. He also has a great sense of humor, telling me about how he makes the occasional joke about rolling into the caldera. And yet, it’s not just his work in the park that helps refine a different perspective of this island, but also his photography that provides a unique lens onto this beautiful landscape.
While he does not sell his photographs, he uses photography to help shine a light on otherwise overlooked and obscure angles. When I met him at the Jaggar Museum, he was taking pictures of a fern near the museum’s entrance, and not the awe-inspiring crater in front of him. Coupled with his work at the national park and his photography, Eric is helping to shed a light on different ways of seeing things. “That’s what keeps me here and interested, to show people parts of the island they didn’t think they could see.” As he strives to provide both those with and without disabilities a unique perspective of our island, you can’t help but appreciate the view.
Eric’s photography can he seen on his Instagram account, @seatedperspectives. To explore some of Eric’s favorite accessible trails, he recommends Earthquake Trail, Devastation Trail, the overlook at the Jaggar Museum, as well as the drive along Chain of Craters Road. He hosts videos and writes on travel websites from time to time about bringing awareness of the park’s accessibility to hose who want to travel to the Big Island, but don’t know where to start.