Community volunteers maintain, monitor deserted national park

  • Trash accumulation in bins and litter on the beaches were problems as Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park remained unstaffed due to the partial shutdown of the federal government. (Max Dible/West Hawaii Today)
  • Trash and recyclables are loaded into a truck Saturday from Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. (Photo courtesy of Lanny Sinkin/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Diane Harmony (left), Randi Rupar, Lanny Sinkin, Christa Bauer and Sharon Messinger volunteered their time Saturday morning in a grassroots effort to clean up Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park in the wake of the partial government shutdown that left it unmanned. (Photo courtesy of Lanny Sinkin/Special to West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Sometimes, if you want something done, you just have to do it yourself.

It was 18 days ago a partial government shutdown took effect, closing and de-staffing places like Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park in South Kona and leaving them unguarded from public whim. Since then, park employees and regular volunteers have been banned from fulfilling their former duties, even absent pay in the case of those who earned livings there.

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So what then is the solution to overflowing rubbish receptacles and blatant disrespect for tradition and standard policy on sacred Hawaiian grounds? It’s a simple and selfless one, embodied by multiple groups of community members who decided of their own accord to take action and protect the park until its caretakers are returned.

Efforts to that effect began Saturday, one day before West Hawaii Today published an article on how desecration, theft, littering and over-saturation of human and vehicle traffic were disrupting and deteriorating conditions at the national park as well as at the neighboring Two Step Beach and Honaunau Bay.

And those efforts started with one man — Lanny Sinkin.

“It didn’t really hit me until I guess Friday when I went in to actually take a look what the impact was of the park being closed,” he said. “And I started seeing trash cans overflowing and trash just loose on the ground and the bathrooms with paper on the floor and stuff like that.”

Sinkin, a practitioner with the Temple of Lono, which is a traditional Hawaiian faith, returned home and published a post on Facebook explaining the situation in the area and imploring others for help.

On Saturday morning, a group of five took to the park for an hour or so to tidy up, emptying overflowing trash and recycling bins and picking up discarded refuse across the ground.

“We just went through the whole park and cleaned up everything we thought needed cleaning,” Sinkin said. “We couldn’t service the port-a-potty. That’s of concern, for now.”

The main problem area was near the information center, Sinkin said. In the picnic area, most receptacles were around half full or a little more, he added. Volunteers cleared those out, too.

Conditions had improved from Friday to Saturday, based on Sinkin’s assessment, as someone he assumed was a ranger had collected recyclable rubbish and heaped it in bags near the center. The volunteer group picked those up and deposited them at the dump.

Sinkin said he’s gotten a commitment from an individual to go check on the park every Friday and report back whether it needs cleaning. This upcoming weekend, at least, there will be significant help from another volunteer source to that end.

That’s because a Blue Zones Project initiative was sparked Monday, the local chapter of the organization focused on health and wellness deciding it, too, would assist at Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park.

Kirstin Kahaloa, Blue Zones Project community engagement lead in West Hawaii, said those who wish to volunteer for a park cleanup should meet in front of the entrance between 8:30-9 a.m. on Saturday.

More information can be found about the event by visiting the Blue Zones Project Facebook page or emailing Kahaloa at Kirstin.Kahaloa@sharecare.com.

Even if other grassroots efforts keep the park relatively pristine before her group springs into action, there’s still considerable value in organizing a project of the sort at an important Native Hawaiian site.

“There might be some folks so impassioned by what was shared that they might be going down during the week to help keep it up,” she said. “Hopefully we can at least maintain the cleanliness of the park.”

She added, “If we get a lot done and there are a lot of folks, we could talk about other opportunities to help steward in the meantime.”

Just a consistent presence within the grounds of people who care about the park might go some length to dissuade those who are knowingly or ignorantly misusing the area by activities like entering Honaunau Bay to snorkel from the park side, picnicking or walking dogs on Royal Grounds, or entering Hale O Keawe, which serves as a sacred place of active worship.

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Sinkin said he actually saw a ranger dressed in full gear on the premises over the weekend. That person told Sinkin they were there to make sure people followed the rules, even though their presence, technically, may well have been a violation of new rules imposed in the wake of the government shutdown.

If so, it was the only rule of several confirmed broken at the park in two and a half weeks since the federal government forced abandonment of the grounds that Sankin had no problem with at all.