Puu Waawaa education center moving ahead

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PUUANAHULU — The U.S. Forest Service is moving ahead with plans for a science and education center at Puu Waawaa.

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PUUANAHULU — The U.S. Forest Service is moving ahead with plans for a science and education center at Puu Waawaa.

Intended to put young hands into soil and forest restoration projects, the center will be located in the 38,000-acre Puu Waawaa unit of the Hawaii Experimental Tropical Forest about 20 miles south of Waimea.

The tract is under restoration and serves as a learning laboratory for dryland forestry.

Groups of students will be able to bunk close to their work under plans for a 1,100-square-foot bunkhouse with an office, kitchen and common rooms, the Institute for Pacific Islands Forestry announced. The Forest Service is also asking the public for feedback on the plan as it proceeds into the design phase.

A Jan. 4 letter sent to more than 100 nearby residents asks for input on how the center should be configured.

To be built on top of an old airstrip in the forest, the center for research, conservation and outreach is designed to broaden understanding of West Hawaii’s unique dry forests, which stand at a fraction of historic levels. The Puu Waawaa area has been grazed heavily by domestic livestock and feral ungulates over the years.

The site is geared mainly toward the education of middle and high school students.

“Then they take it home and talk around the table with their families, and increase the knowledge and understanding of what we’re doing with conservation work here in Hawaii,” said Ric Lopez, director of the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, which is based in Hilo.

Other features of the plan include a 400-square-foot pavilion, a storage building, tent area and parking for 10 vehicles. The bunkhouse will sleep 10, and an area for tent camping will allow another 15 people to stay overnight on occasion.

An environmental assessment and other hurdles must be cleared before ground can be broken, Lopez said. A conceptual design for the center is underway, but actual construction likely won’t start for a year or two, and it may take three years before the site is ready for use, he said.

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“It’s important to me that we have a small environmental footprint and a fairly compact design,” he said.

When the Forest Service first proposed the project, the federal agency wanted to use an old school site in Puuanahulu. But residents of the area made their opposition clear during a series of meetings in early 2015, citing hazardous access off a sharp curve, fire danger and concerns about impacts of the center on the community’s ambiance.

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