Residents, business owners and concerned parties joined State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell for a talk story session about the future of Kealakekua Bay, Kaawaloa Flats and Napoopoo Landing Saturday afternoon at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park. Laura Shimabuku/West Hawaii Today
Kealakekua — Taking care of her community is her kuleana, said Alayna Debina.
So is taking keeping Hawaiian culture alive for her descendants, said Debina, the secretary of the community advisory task force Hoala Kealakekua.
“I feel like I need to do what I can to help perpetuate the history for my children and grandchildren,” she said.
Debina was among about 35 people who spent Saturday morning clearing vegetation at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.
Hoala Kealakekua was formed earlier this year to organize community members who wanted to take ownership of the area.
Every month since May, members have come out to work on clearing vegetation around Hikiau Heaiu, described by the Department of Land and Natural Resources as “one of the most important religious sites on the island of Hawaii.” Saturday, the organization signed an agreement to “adopt” the park, allowing them to continue their care taking efforts month to month.
For years now, state officials have struggled to put together a master plan guiding park use that balances preservation with access for residents and tourists.
Those plans are still being worked out, but having Hoala Kealakekua gives the community a chance to get a headstart on cleaning up as well as identifying and cataloguing historical sites.
“Whatever plan the state chooses, certain things can only be done one way,” said Gordon Leslie, chairman of Hoala Kealakekua. Leslie said all work is done under the guidance of the state archeologist.
Members say there’s a real difference being made.
“It’s awesome,” Debina said of the impact the organization has made. “I mean there’s such a huge difference.”
Manao Alu, 22, was also among those clearing vegetation Saturday. He said it’s important to keep the park’s history alive for future generations.
“It means a lot for people to come out and help,” he said.
The event attracted community members of all ages. Debina noted that a group of kupuna came out to the event to support the clean up and lend their hands.
Leslie said having the older generation play a role in caring for the park means a lot for the community.
“It’s important for the young generation to see the elders supporting it,” he said.
Their involvement and stewardship also shows the Department of Land and Natural Resources that the community has a stake in the area’s future and any plans for the park need to take that into account.
Hoala Kealakekua spokesman Miles Mulcahy said all the original proposals for the area’s use were geared toward tourists.
“They didn’t seem to take a lot into account for the local use,” said Mulcahy.
After talking with Leslie and others, the community made the decision to create Hoala Kealakekua in order to preserve the history of the area and perpetuate the culture.
“So we’re trying to do a comprehensive plan that keeps it available for local use and still protect the area and allow tourist education,” he said.
The area also suffers from a lack of facilities and monitoring.
There are no restrooms or trash bins at Kaawaloa Flat, the site of the Captain Cook monument. Nor are there any along the long, steep trail to access that part of the park.
That means visitors to the area leave behind human waste and trash at a place Leslie called perhaps one of the most sacred places in the state of Hawaii.
“Any place they can squat behind – a fallen tree, a stone wall, a heiau, a grave site – that’s where they go and relieve themselves,” Leslie said.
Another problem Mulcahy identified is that of visitors interfering with artifacts.
“The other thing is people come down and they say ‘Oh look at this really nice rock. Oh it looks like a figure,’” he said. “And they take it home with them.”
Curt Cottrell, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources state parks division administrator, acknowledged the need for restrooms, adding that any facilities at Kaawaloa would need to be waterless.
Cottrell attended the morning’s clean up and held a talk story with community members Saturday afternoon.
He also noted the need to improve parking near the Hikiau Heaiu side of the park and restore the historic wharf and repurpose it for launching vessels.
All of that, he said, needs to happen without overly impacting residents.
Part of the problem, he said, is that state park infrastructure isn’t keeping up with the number of tourists visiting state parks.
“The parks are not designed with the kind of patronage we’ve seen,” he said.
Cottrell said he liked the combination of the morning clean up and the afternoon talk story, saying it’s something he’d like to replicate for other meetings.
During the talk story, John Kirkpatrick of consultant Belt Collins described a recent survey about what people would like to see at the park. The survey asked a variety of questions about how the park should be used and what sort of activity should be allowed at the sites and in the bay.
The survey wasn’t scientific, he said, so its findings can only be used to describe what the respondents felt rather than be extrapolated to describe the whole community’s sentiments.
In that survey, the highest ranking priority for respondents was identified as “access and use of the park for recreation.”
Some at the talk story, however, criticized the survey as being biased and argued that the survey should have been directed at people who live in the immediate area.
Cottrell, however, said the survey “had no intended consequence.”
“I have no agenda,” he said. “I wanted to bring this meeting to the neighborhood.”
Leslie told the crowd that the community needs to take advantage of tourism in the area, saying ventures like kayak rentals are among the only economic engines in the village.
“Wherever that flow of tourist goes, you need to tap into that,” he said.