Saving Kaiholena

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KOHALA — An important piece of property in North Hawaii is now protected in perpetuity, thanks to years of hard work by Kohala residents, a team of community volunteers, local nonprofit organizations and relevant federal, state and county agencies.

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KOHALA — An important piece of property in North Hawaii is now protected in perpetuity, thanks to years of hard work by Kohala residents, a team of community volunteers, local nonprofit organizations and relevant federal, state and county agencies.

At the request of the North Kohala community, the Ala Kahakai Trail Association (ATA) has permanently protected the 35-acre Kaiholena south parcel of the North Kohala coastline. This is the last of six parcels the community has been able to protect.

Kaiholena is located south of Lapakahi State Historical Park. The final parcel was purchased by ATA, which immediately granted a perpetual conservation easement on the property to the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (HILT) in an arrangement announced late last year. The purchase is the last part of the Kaiholena ahupua’a to be protected makai of the highway, and is the result of decades of work by community members to conserve the area.

Kaiholena was once a thriving community, evidenced by the numerous remnants of heiau, massive halau, burial sites and village complexes that are still visible. It has the most pre-contact, intact cultural and archaeological sites of any place in Hawaii, and includes more than 200 sites that qualify for The National Register of Historic Places.

Management plans for the property will be community driven, with a goal to eventually open for visitors the portion of the property which transects the Ala Kahakai Historic Trail. ATA anticipates that it and other organizations will function as partners in community-based protection of cultural sites and landscapes on the property. The protection program will support cultural conservation efforts and seek to enhance the property’s relationship to the Native Hawaiian culture, and to the descendants and others with kinship connections to the land.

Many community partners realized the importance of the Kaiholena south parcel and contributed financially or with personal collateral to ensure its protection. They include the North Kohala community, County of Hawaii, State Legacy Land Preservation Fund, Hawaii State Legacy Land, Freeman Foundation, Malama Kohala Kahakai, HILT, the Dorrance Family and Atherton Foundations and individual North Kohala residents. Additional support was provided by community volunteers including Gail Byrne Baber, who donated thousands of hours to see the project through, and Toni Withington, who was heavily involved early on. Kohala kupuna Fred Cachola and Mike Isaccs were also key volunteers.

Alan Brown of ATA and Aric Arakaki of the U.S. National Park Service were heavily involved, as were Molly Schmidt, David Penn and Jason Omick from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. HILT’s representative was Acquisitions Specialist and Hawaii Island Director Janet Britt.

The patience and cooperation exhibited by the landowner Edward Moody and the landowner’s representative Charles Anderson throughout the entire process was greatly appreciated by all involved.

Going forward, the North Kohala community and surrounding area residents are committed to help steward the property in perpetuity. A North Kohala conservation non-profit organization, Kohala Lihikai, has applied for a stewardship grant from the .25 percent Hawaii County Maintenance Fund specifically designated for the stewarding and management of protected lands. They hope to use those funds for the management needs of Kaiholena.

“With the protection of Kaiholena, almost 10 miles of the North Kohala coast have been secured for the benefit of current and future generations,” said Scott Fisher who, at the time of the announcement, was serving as HILT interim director.

Arakaki called protection of Kaiholena “a great thing,” adding that the conservation easement means the land will remain under conservation uses or maintained as open space. The Park Service will be working to support the community’s active role in the management of Kaiholena.

“We really want to make sure ancestral connections are not impacted and are actually enhanced through the project’s management plan,” Arakaki said. “We want to build the capacity of the ATA to support community based management.”

As one of the project’s most active community volunteers, Byrne Baber was losing sleep worrying about whether the pristine stretch of coastline she drives along nearly every day would be lost one day to development.

“I literally got kicked out of bed, thinking about it,” she remembered.

So she drafted a strategy on how the coast could be preserved, and has been working on it nearly every day since for the last nine years.

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A civil engineer by trade, Byrne Baber stresses she’s not anti-development but she does strongly support well-planned development.

“We all now understand that there are many ways to find the highest and best use for land and sometimes that’s leaving it open,” she said. “I can tell you from my own experience, when you lose open spaces it changes who you are as a person. Open spaces are fundamentally important.”

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