KAILUA-KONA — Friends of Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden is one step closer to securing the landmark garden and re-opening it to the public.
On Friday, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) awarded the nonprofit $750,000 via the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Legacy Land Conservation Program.
And the victory is a long-time coming. Succeeding the Bishop Museum’s 2016 announcement to divest from the garden, the Friends’ group was quick to form, advocating for the garden’s protection and re-opening.
The garden has now been closed for over two years.
“This success is kind of a linchpin,” said Maile Melrose, president of the nonprofit. “It’s a big whack of money. The museum needs it and we need it to purchase the garden.”
The 13.6-acre garden includes one parcel that holds Paikapahu Heiau, and four other parcels along the remnants of the Kona Field System of traditional Hawaiian agriculture.
The garden, legacy of botanist Amy B.H. Greenwell, is not only home to rare and endangered flora, but also supports Hawaiian cultural use of plants and conserves plant resources of traditional Hawaiian activity.
The BLNR approval follows the Legacy Land Conservation Commission’s December recommendation to approve the grant.
The funds from the Legacy Land Conservation program are set aside yearly from real estate conveyance taxes. The money is distributed via competitive grants to community organizations and government agencies dedicated to land conservation.
But several steps still follow. The grant must be approved by the state Legislature and signed off by the governor, explained Melrose.
However, with the legislative session ending soon, the Friends’ are feeling the pressure.
“We are going to have to do it fast,” said Melrose.
But also with the heat, comes support.
“I believe we have support from our legislators, everybody loves the garden,” said Melrose. “Everyone wants to see it open.”
However, the $750,000 is far from enough to cover the costs of the total acquisition, which are estimated to be $1.66 million, as estimated in the nonprofit’s application for the grant.
The Legacy Land Conservation Program requires nonprofit groups to be able to put up 25 percent of the acquisition costs. The Friends’ application outlines 55 percent in matching funds, or nearly $927,000.
As detailed in the application, the funds include $400,000 from the Hawaii County Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission for a conservation easement and $17,000 in volunteer gardener hours and membership donations.
“People are very kind and have given us donations,” said Melrose.
“I feel fairly certain that we will get the funding, but you never know,” wrote Janet Britt, Friends’ board member who crafted the application, in an email to West Hawaii Today.
But given the lack of competition to purchase the garden, Melrose feels confident that it will not land in non-protective hands.
“Two years ago, we were scared,” she said. “Now, we’re not scared.”
“We just need to raise this money. But I think Bishop museum actually wants us to be successful,” added Melrose.
And for now, the BLNR decision is a cause for celebration.
“If they said anything else, that would have been hideously disappointing,” said Melrose. “It’s great we have come this far.”