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Herbicide-free trial begins at three county parks

May 9, 2017 - 12:45am

NORTH HAWAII — “I make leis. Are you spraying pesticides? We learned that pesticides are dangerous for my body and our planet. What do you think? From your friend Adia,” wrote a first grader from Kua O Ka La New Century Public Charter School to a county representative after witnessing spraying at the local park.

As part of their campaign for safe parks, she and other students and parents have joined volunteers in a trial program to stop the spraying of herbicides in Big Island parks.

In early March, community representatives from Waimea, Honokaa and Puna met with Charmaine Kamaka, director of the Hawaii County Department of Parks &Recreation, and other county staff members to discuss the use of herbicides in the parks, echoing Adia’s concerns for the health of people, wildlife and the aina.

The main barrier to wholesale “greening” of parks and eliminating the dead brown weeds is the extra manpower required to weed whack or prune instead of spraying chemicals, as Kamaka learned when she spearheaded five herbicide-free oceanfront parks in Hilo in 1991. With help from volunteers guaranteed, the county agreed to the three new trial parks this spring.

“The Parks &Recreation Department is pleased to have formed a working relationship with these community Friends of the Park who have willingly donated their time and energy to this exciting project to reduce herbicide use at Hawaii County Parks,” said Kamaka.

Waimea Town Park’s first work party last Friday morning was preceded by several volunteers who had already begun removing sprayed weeds. The Friends of Honokaa Park held their first meeting April 30. The group examined aerial maps and divided the large 25-acre park into five zones to be tackled with weed whackers, hedge trimmers, mulch, ground cover, strong backs and hands.

At Isaac Hale Beach Park in Puna, volunteers weed whacked, edged, trimmed and hauled away a truckload of weeds on their first workday April 26, with refreshments donated by Island Naturals Pahoa. Clumps of dead cane grass were dug out and replaced with shrubs, and ground cover provided by Rozett’s Nursery.

“It’s fun to come together with others who love the community, and to meet new people as you work to help take care of the park,” said volunteer Geoff Last.

After the mechanical work was done, the students from KOKL arrived at the park with their Kumu Pomai Emsley and several parents to help do a final cleanup.

The long-term goal of the herbicide-free trial parks is not only to make these three heavily-used parks safer for people, wildlife and the aina, and more aesthetic, but to come up with alternatives to spraying chemical herbicides that can be used throughout the county’s parks and along the roadsides.

Moving in that direction, Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, chairperson of the Environmental Management Committee, will be submitting a revamped county spraying ordinance for vote later this year. If passed, the county will need to have alternatives to spraying glyphosate herbicides and the park trials may offer workable solutions. This is not plowing new ground, but returning to efforts started on-island in the early 1990s.

Interviewed at Carlsmith Park in 1995 for community access television, Kamaka said the herbicide-free trials required “more work in the beginning, but a lot of native ground covers took over. There was a large circle of dead vegetation around trees, around steps, around sidewalks,” she said, “but we changed the views of the maintenance staff and now it’s much healthier for the trees and people, and more aesthetic. Now the ponds are clear because soil isn’t eroding when it rains.”

Director of Parks &Recreation in 1995, George Yoshida, added, “We could see a trend that herbicides and the environment don’t mix. It takes more manpower (for no-spray parks), but it reduces the cost of herbicides. So it doesn’t make much difference in cost.”

Yoshida’s successors did not agree, so no new herbicide-free park trials have been conducted until now.

Residents who want to volunteer their time, expertise or supplies can learn more on one of the Facebook groups set up for the herbicide-free park trials called Greener Hawaii Waimea Town, Friends of Honokaa Park, Friends of Isaac Hale Beach Park, or the over-arching Greener Hawaii 2.0.

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