Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden nonprofit lands $750K

  • Janet Britt checks on a Hawaiian Poppy Thursday at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Maile Melrose, left and Janet Britt demonstrate Thursday at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook how pili grass propagates. (Photos by Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Maile Melrose checks on an abutilon flower Thursday at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook.

  • Peter Van Dyke, garden manager and Maile Melrose, board president check on a Hawaiian cotton plat Thursday at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Garden manager Peter Van Dyke tends to the Kalo patch Thursday at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

CAPTAIN COOK — The Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden is more than a local living museum featuring rare indigenous and endemic plants ripe for academic study.

It’s also a historical and cultural treasure for Kona, where visitors and residents can explore the range of natural resources growing throughout the region.

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And while the 15-acre garden, the legacy of botanist Amy Beatrice Holdsworth Greenwell, has been closed to the public since the Bishop Museum shuttered it in 2016, a group of local volunteers has long championed its reopening.

Now, the group is one big step closer to that goal thanks to a grant worth three quarters of a million dollars.

“It’s the best thing,” said Janet Britt, a board member of the Friends of Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden who wrote the grant application, “to take care of it here in the community and not have Oahu try to deal with it.”

Last month, the Legacy Land Conservation Commission, a state commission under the Department of Land and Natural Resources, recommended the Board of Land and Natural Resources approve $750,000 to the nonprofit Friends of Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden.

Each year, the state sets aside a part of its revenue from real estate conveyance taxes to the Land Conservation Fund and the Legislature in turn provides the Legacy Land Conservation Program with some of the money in that account.

The money is then distributed in the form of competitive grants to state agencies, counties and nonprofit groups dedicated to land conservation.

In 2007, the Legacy Land Conservation Program granted $287,250 to Kona Historical Society toward the purchase of the 5.5-acre Uchida Farm, now the Kona Historical Society Kona Coffee Living History Farm just north of the Greenwell Garden.

That same year, the program granted funds to the Cave Conservancy of Hawaii to purchase 3 acres of land near Kula Kai View Estates to protect lava tunnel access and resources and granted funds to the County of Hawaii for a 234-acre tract of anchialine ponds and freshwater springs at Kawa Bay in Ka‘u.

Britt added the Friends group also needs to first negotiate a sale price and confirm an agreement to sell before it can receive the money.

That means one of the first things the group needs to do is start talks with Bishop Museum, which still owns the property, and negotiate a purchase price — which also would require getting an appraisal of the property.

At the start of November, the Bishop Museum announced the appointment of Melanie Y. Ide as the museum’s new president and CEO. She will take the helm on Monday.

Friends of Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden president Maile Melrose said Ide’s hiring aligned with the Legacy Land grant makes the time perfect to start negotiations, saying “the stars are aligning” for the garden.

She added the group is “looking forward to an era of full cooperation with the Bishop Museum.”

“I think that’s what’s going to be fun,” she said, “having a real CEO is going to allow real decision-making, right?”

Matching funds still needed

The $750,000 grant isn’t meant to cover all costs and will, in the end, cover just about 45 percent of the total acquisition cost, estimated in the application at less than $1.68 million, including an estimated fair market value of the property at $1.66 million. Other acquisition costs include an appraisal report, title insurance and title report and other fees to be covered by the Friends.

The Legacy Land Conservation Program’s rules require counties and nonprofit groups seeking funds must be able to put up at least 25 percent of the total transaction costs in matching funds. To cover the full estimated acquisition cost, the Friends’ application outlines close to $927,000 in matching funds, about 55 percent of the total cost.

The proposed matching funds include $400,000 in funds from the Hawaii County Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission for a conservation easement and close to $17,000 in combined in-kind volunteer gardener hours and membership donations.

The remaining $510,000 is expected to come from donations and grants, according to the application, setting up the need for a big fundraising campaign.

And while it’s a tall goal, Britt and Melrose said the organization is up to the task.

Britt said it doesn’t have to come up with the full match within a year, saying it can apply to get the money the next year if it needs more time to come up with the match.

“But our dream is to come up with the match,” said Melrose. “Because the garden has now been closed for two years.”

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While a grand re-opening date isn’t on the table just yet, Melrose and Britt said residents can look forward to exciting things as early as this year, such as fundraising events.

“Exciting things will be happening at the garden,” Melrose said. “And they’ll be happening sooner rather than later.”