POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA — “Take it to outer space,” exclaimed 7-year-old Reggie Shropshire as an unmanned aerial vehicle took to the sky Friday morning in the Saddle between Mauna Loa and Maunakea.
Using the UAV, Jason Dzurisin, an ecological data specialist with Colorado State University, showing dozens of excited keiki attending Pohakuloa Training Area’s annual Earth Day event how the U.S. Army’s Natural and Cultural Resource Program uses technology to map the area.
With the maps and multidimensional models, he explained, staff can monitor natural and cultural resources without entering an area — which could damage resources — as well as assess fires, among other tasks.
The display, which drew many “oohs” and “ahhs” from the students, was among more than a dozen “eco-stations” offering hands-on educational activities, informative briefings and live demonstrations to celebrate Earth Day. Among the stations were a virtual lava tube tour, putt-putt golf made from up-cycled materials, hydrogen power creation, endangered and threatened native plant displays and more.
“It’s fun getting to learn new things in person,” said Maka Ruiz, an eighth-grade student at Kua O Ka La Public Charter School in Kalapana after operating the Army’s Talon IV military robot, which is used in clearance operations. “And to see things I’ve never seen before.”
The annual free event is PTA’s “premiere community engagement event,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Marquez, the training area’s commanding officer.
All students from all schools, as well as the general public, were invited to the military training area for the opportunity to see how PTA cares for the multitude of resources within the 210-square-mile area, he said.
“We want to educate people on what we do take care of the resources,” he said.
According to Marquez, the Army’s contracted Natural and Cultural Resources Program has more than 40 staffers who monitor 26 threatened and endangered species and more than 1,200 cultural sites.
In addition to PTA’s stations, about a dozen local businesses and organizations — including Bike Works, Blue Planet Research, W.M. Keck Observatory and Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization — took part.
In all, about 200 students made the trek to the training area situated at 6,000 feet in elevation, including dozens of pupils from Connections Public Charter School in Hilo.
“It’s just a fun, interactive learning experience,” said Kate Wines, who brought about 50 students in first, second and fifth grade to the event for the second straight year. “And, they really like it.”
Marquez hopes more schools will take part in the event in the years to come. He encouraged school officials to reach out to Mike Donnelly, PTA community relations liaison, at 469-2411 or firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about next year’s event so plans can be made well ahead of time.