Land Acquisition: Lessons Learned on the Ala Kahakai NHT

by Kaleo Paik, Director of Philanthropy, Ala Kahakai Trail Association

The Ala Kahakai Trail Association (ATA) has found itself a landowner in the last several years, but not in a way that most acquire lands. We were very reluctant to engage in land ownership as the responsibility and long term commitment required us to change our vision to include saving parts of the trail. It all began about 10 years ago when a community member asked us if we would take on the responsibility of going after State funds to purchase land in an area where our trail traversed. 

Our Board had several long discussions before agreeing and the top of the discussion was if we were ready to tackle owning property and all that it entailed.  We were new at the game and had no expertise to guide us, but we were able to purchase 35 acres in Kaiholena, Kohola. The property was purchased with State Legacy Land, Hawaiian Island Land Trust, and the Dorrance Family funds. We were also gifted with 100 acres as a donation from an off-island developer who embraced our mission and entrusted us with the task of protecting many archaeological sites and trails on the property.

Then we got a new member on board who had a desire to save some of his ancestral lands in Kau. It was this board member who started our journey into land protection and preservation of, not only the trail, but all of the cultural resources that were abundant in the trail corridor. Taking his lead, we were able to have in fee 2300 acres and about 800 acres in conservation easement. We are presently securing the closing for another 1300 acres and are in the process of trying to secure approval for another 1800 acres.  

In all of these instances, we did not want to be the first in line to acquire the lands but, as the landowners were going to sell and no other organization came forward from the community to apply for funding, ATA took on the challenge of trying to save these lands. All of the funding that we applied for came from the State Legacy Land Fund and the Hawaii County PONC fund.

The application was very extensive and we were fortunate to secure the help of Trust for Public Lands. Their expertise and guidance was crucial in maneuvering through the legal issues as well as how best to bring our projects to the commissioners who would rank our projects. This journey is now in its fifth year for the Kau lands, but it has been worth all the hard work everyone has given.

What are some of the lessons we have learned from the process?  The process starts with a simple “yes” or “no” to tackle the acquisition. If “yes,” each member of the Board must be committed to see the process through. Leaning on each other when things get difficult helps to lighten the load on any one Board member and to defuse any anxiety that issues may cause. The process is lengthy and it’s important not to get discouraged by obstacles placed in your way. Get a core group of people outside of the Board to help with formulating a strategy on how best to serve the land and its resources. Get community input and buy in. It can be very challenging to engage with diverse members of the community but, remember, they will be the stewards long after we are gone, and they will be the fiercest supporters of any preservation and protection effort. 

Mistakes have been made as we struggled to maneuver through this process. Still, we have accepted our shortcomings and continue to strive to do our best to protect our trail and the history, stories, and people that make up our beloved Alanui or—known by more modern terms—the Ala Kahakai Trail. We now have a seat at the table to discuss any and all matters on lands that we have control over. That is the biggest takeaway and long-term protection we can offer the next generations.

2024 National Trails Workshop Call for Proposals Open