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Pacific WWII Site May Open To Visitors

Isolated from most of the world, Midway Atoll could open to visitors next year on a limited basis.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a draft plan and may start a regularly scheduled visitor program as early as mid-2007, said Barbara Maxfield, spokeswoman for the agency's Pacific Islands office.

The tentative plan would probably accommodate fewer than 30 visitors at a time to the remote U.S. island, a historic World War II military site, she said.

The public can currently only get to the island by boarding a cruise from Asia, hitching a ride with resident government workers or volunteering for three months of environmental duty.

"We would very much like to welcome visitors back on a more regular basis ... (to) share all of the wildlife and the historic features of not only Midway but certainly as a window to the marine national monument as well," Maxfield said.

Midway, located 1,250 miles northwest of Honolulu, is at the tip of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, which was established in June.

Known for the crucial 1942 Battle of Midway that turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific, Midway is home to spinner dolphins, pristine beaches and hundreds of thousands of seabirds.

Access was largely cut off in 2002 when the Fish and Wildlife Service's sole tourist operator pulled out, citing difficulties making a profit on trips to the atoll's remote islands.

Details about the proposed visitor program haven't been released.

The draft plan, which includes an environmental assessment, is expected to be released for public review and comment early next year, Maxfield said. If public comments are supportive, officials would issue the plan for approval by the Fish and Wildlife Service's regional director.

The wildlife service uses a small charter aircraft to transport its employees and has been looking into other air transportation, Maxfield said.

"We have always known that there is substantial interest in bringing more people out to Midway," she said. "We certainly have always wanted to welcome visitors back there."

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources will carefully review any visiting proposals before giving them the go-ahead, said department director Peter Young.

"Let's not jump into anything ... it is a special place and as such we need to make sure that our decisions are not made for today, but really made for tomorrow," he said.

For more information visit the Fish & Wildlife Service's Web site page on the Midway Atoll.