HILO — Bishop Museum will retain ownership of its Waipio Valley lands.
The news comes three years after the Oahu-based museum declared in January 2016 its intent to sell its substantial acreage within the historic agricultural community.
“The museum’s board of directors has since voted to remove the lands from the market, having re-evaluated the current conditions of the museum and opened up opportunities for partnerships in support of its mission, which include the perpetuation of living culture,” according to a press release.
Bishop Museum owns 537 acres, or more than 50 percent of the valley — land that was gifted to the museum more than a century ago and today contains a majority of Waipio’s taro farms.
“Waipio Valley is one of Hawaii’s greatest living treasures. It is the ancestral seat of the alii of Hawaii Island, and is home to tremendously significant sites of cultural and natural heritage,” said Melanie Ide, president and CEO of Bishop Museum. “We’re pleased to make this announcement, and look forward to continuing to work alongside the community to chart a path forward in the stewardship of Waipio.”
In a phone interview Wednesday, Ide said the museum board voted on the matter in November.
“I think the announcement in 2016 took place at a time when really the museum was under a lot of financial strain and (selling the Waipio lands) was part of the plan the museum had put together at the time,” Ide said.
But over the last three years, Ide said the museum worked diligently to improve its finances and now is in a position to remove the land from market.
“It also allows us to really think more broadly about what’s most important about caring for Waipio Valley into the future,” Ide said.
The museum is working with the Waipio Taro Farmers Association and other stakeholders to develop a long-range plan for protection, conservation and selective restoration of the natural and cultural resources in the valley, the news release states.
Ide said the most immediate goal will be “listening and learning” in order to understand the needs, concerns, issues and opportunities of the valley, “so that when we make plans (we are) doing it in the most informed way as possible.”
While long-term needs are still being evaluated, Ide said water management and stream maintenance are issues that must be addressed.
The museum also needs to “encourage the kinds of activities in the valley that are consistent with the long-term vision,” she said.
Some farmers said they are pleased with the museum’s decision to not sell the land.
“Over the last year and a half, we’ve been successful in coordinating multiple visits and meetings with the museum’s new administration, resulting in a much improved relationship with Bishop Museum (leading to a recent lease extension agreement),” Noland Eskaran, president of the Waipio Taro Farmers Association, said in an email to the Tribune-Herald. “This new commitment has allowed us to partner up with our government representatives to collectively work on access and stream management issues. We look forward to working with the rest of the Waipio and Kukuihaele community on other community concerns.”
Ide said there are a “few dozen” lessees using the museum’s Waipio lands, and in November the museum was able to put those lease holders on five-year leases. Some of them have been leasing land from Bishop Museum for generations.
Bishop Museum also “reinstated a preamble to the leases which also recognizes the role of taro farmers in stewarding the cultural heritage of the valley,” Ide said. “So they’re really doing more than farming. It’s really a continuation of the cultural heritage that is being maintained by their farming. Our goal is to support that and protect that so it can continue.”
“From my own experience as a Bishop Museum lessee over the past 30 years, it’s been on pretty shaky ground and a major concern has been for our future on the land,” Doug Genovia, a taro farmer whose family has leased land from the museum in Waipio Valley for more than 50 years, said in the release. “But in just the last year, there’s been a significant change, which makes me feel more hopeful of a brighter future for all of us who are Bishop Museum lessees. Together, with Bishop Museum’s leadership, I believe we have a much better chance now — to protect our cultural traditions and perpetuate Waipio as a wahi pana.’”
The museum also announced in 2016 that it would seek a buyer for the 15-acre Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook.
Ide said that property currently is still for sale, and the museum is continuing discussions with the Friends of Amy B.H. Greenwell Garden to find a solution for the long-term stewardship of the property.
Email Stephanie Salmons at email@example.com.