A troubled trudge for Waimea’s trails

Reading the WHT Oct. 22, 2020 page 6A this morning caused my blood pressure to rise a few degrees. About 24 years ago, a few of us in Waimea got together and discussed having a walking trail following the Waikoloa Stream through our town. We felt that the benefits would include another means by which to connect the different schools in the community, it would allow for exercise in a pleasant setting, remind people of the town’s written history, and help keep the Hawaiian names and Hawaiian Legends connected to the town alive for future generations.

We learned that the Federal Government allows for 10% of Federal Highway Funding to be utilized for “Non-motorized connectors” or Non-motorized Trails. The guys who walked or jogged daily for exercise, bicycle riders, and parents with school age children were all excited about the possibility of utilizing federal funds for the project instead of County funds. We began the process by talking to the County Administration and owners of the lands on which we wanted to put the trail. The Land Owners were enthusiastic and volunteered their land which became County property. It was then that I decided to run for the County Council, got elected, and with the cooperation of the other council members, obtained $3 million to get our trail started with planning, studies, surveys, etc. About that time, Hilo also wanted to put in the Front Street Trail along the bay and I helped support the project.

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The Hilo Bay Front Trail made fast progress and was completed in a few years while ours trudged along. Whenever we checked, the County Administration assured us that they were working on the Waimea Trail. We applied and were placed on the STIP list to receive Federal Funding. A few years down the road, we were informed that the Rail being built in Honolulu had a negative effect on our trail, causing a delay. Soon, the volcano erupted in Puna and we were told that the county was busy in Puna, but our Trail was not forgotten. We were aware that the county administration did not forget our trail because when we contacted them, we learned that our project was handed to another person in the administration to do follow-up. We also learned that the consultant who had been hired to oversee the project gave up his position as consultant. There was some whispering that he quit due to existing animosities but none have been confirmed. We were also contacted and told that because of the slow progress being made, we would be removed from the Federal STIP Funding Program. The County Administration assured us that they were doing all they could do. During this delay time, four of our original Trail members died waiting to see the trail built.

The day finally arrived when the administration contacted our Trail committee with news about our Trail. The news was that because of the time delay, all of the work done on the trail needed to be re- done as its validity had expired. That meant all of the monies spent was now lost. However, we were assured that we need not worry because the person now assigned to oversee the trail will be “on it” to bring it to completion in spite of the change in new administration after the 2020 election.

We have been fortunate that some trail-users have joined us in maintaining the present trail. Some of the middle-aged volunteers who were part of the original Trail Planners are now senior citizens and too old to do hard work, but still wondering if we will ever see our trail completed. We do have a usable Trail in the easement we acquired, but it is rough, below standard, and maintained by some of us who are still able to do so. The Trail, when completed, will be handicap compliant.

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The story in the WHT Paper being referred to is “Phase Two of the Hilo Trail.” However, we are not concerned because the Administration is “on top” of our trail development starting from the very beginning again. Some small minded people have suggested that if our trail was in Hilo, it would have had more administrative attention and completed by now – but that is just unjustified talk.

Leningrad Elarionoff is a resident of Waimea.