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Blazing the Trail

Ke `Aupuni Lokahi receives grant to plan Pala`au trails.

At the Pala`au Pavilion in Kalae, Bill Garnett outlines the Ala Pala`au project that would provide recreation, restoration and employment.

By Catherine Cluett

For Bill Garnett, much of the future is found in the past, and he lives that motto every day in his work with rare and native plant restoration on Molokai. This philosophy also led him to read through old Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) documents which pointed to historic trails in the Pala`au State Park region in Kalae.

Garnett’s peek into the past lead to a $90,000 grant to plan for uncovering and restoring those same Pala`au trails.  The goal is multi-faceted — restoring native forests and rare species, providing cultural interpretation of these resources and presenting a new area of recreation as well as employment.

The HTA awarded the grant to Ke `Aupuni Lokahi, Inc., (KAL) a non-profit organization for community improvement. The grant funds only the planning process, which will include gathering ideas from the community and completing the necessary environmental and cultural reports, permits, and analysis to facilitate implementation of the plan. Education and training in natural resource management, with an emphasis on youth stewardship of the land, is a key component of the project which is being called Ala Pala`au.

“This is the biggest grant they have ever given for a natural resources project,” says Garnett, an employee of the University of Hawaii who oversees the planting of rare and endangered plants in Kalaupapa and around the island.

Garnett expects the planning process to take about a year. It will involve not only comprehensive preparation for every aspect of the project, but also completion of a botanical survey of the area.

The project will provide new recreation, restoration and employment, according to Meredith Speicher, a planner with the National Park Service (NPS).

The NPS in Kalaupapa has also volunteered their staff to match the funds in labor for the project. Guy Hughes, NPS Natural Resources Division Chief, says Park Superintendent Steve Prokop hopes the topside trails and lookouts over Kalaupapa will be a way for people to experience the peninsula even if they are not able to make the trek down.

One bordering landowner expressed concern that once they open their doors to this project, it would take on a life of its own. “What guarantee do we have that this will not turn into something more in the future?”

In short, there is no guarantee, according to Hughes. But Stacy Crivello, a KAL board member, is quick to point out that communication is integral to the project’s success, and nothing will happen without landowner’s cooperation.

Lori Buchanan, member of the Molokai Planning Commission and the Molokai Invasive Species Committee, added that the project would need protection against potential liability. “Who is responsible if a tourist falls on the trail?” she asks. “What agency will be held accountable?”

No one has all the answers yet. Garnett points out that part of the project’s purpose is job creation and training, and that hopefully Molokai residents will take responsibility for tasks like trail maintenance. “But we have $90,000 to plan this, so we better be able to answer all these questions,” he says.

Garnett hopes to work with local nurseries to supply native plants for the area, and schools to involve youth in the work.

Another challenge the project currently faces is a lack of clarity of land ownership and property lines. The Department of Hawaiian Homelands owns the majority of the land earmarked for the project, and several divisions within the State of Hawaii as well as the National Park Service lease portions of it. Defining the boundaries between these parcels will be a large part of the planning process, says Garnett.

Ke Aupuni Lokahi is a non-profit organization established to administer the Enterprise Community (EC) Grant awarded to the Molokai community in 1998 by the United States Department of Agriculture. That grant sunsetted in December 2008, according to Benny Venenciano, Administrator of KAL.

While KAL’s EC status is over, the work it does in the community is not, and Venenciano says the organization is continuing to offer support to the projects it began, many of which now stand on their own feet. These include the Molokai Land Trust for open space conservation, the Molokai Community Health Center, and the Molokai Community Development Corporation, which provides affordable housing.

The first public meeting for the Ala Pala`au Trails project will be held in mid-March. Look for the specific date and time in the Dispatch calendar.

Call Ke `Aupuni Lokahi at 553-8188 for more information or if you would like to volunteer in the planning of the project.

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