PNTS publishes Ala Kahakai Trail protection case study

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by Don Owen, Consultant and Case Study Author, Partnership for the National Trails System

The Partnership for the National Trails System (PNTS) has published its fourth case study about national trail protection efforts. “Protecting Waikapuna: Nana i waele mua i ke ala, mahope aku makou, na poki’i (He or She First Cleared the Path and Then We Younger Ones Followed)” tells the story of how the Ala Kahakai Trail Association acquired the Waikapuna property along the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail in 2019.

“For sale: 2,317 acres of pristine Hawaiian coastline. Inquire within.” 

One of hundreds of Hawaii’s ancient ahupua’a (mountain-to-sea land divisions), Waikapuna is a spectacular, undeveloped landscape of alkaline and brackish saltwater tide pools, caves, native coastal plants, dry land forest habitat, small sandy bays interspersed with ragged cliffs and vast lava flows, and thousands of archaeological sites associated with a once-thriving Hawaiian fishing and farming community. It is also a key property along the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, which follows the shoreline of the great island of Hawaii for nearly 175 miles in a crescent-shaped arc that nearly circumnavigates the island.

“Native Hawaiians have an extremely strong connection to the land. We almost treat the land as if it’s a family member,” said Keoni Fox, a member of the Ala Kahakai Trail Association’s Board of Directors who was involved in protecting the property for many years. “Our burial grounds, our food, our way of life, it’s all connected.”

The 1868 eruption of Mauna Loa and earthquakes and tsunamis that followed forced thousands of native villagers in Waikapuna and other coastal villages to move inland. For the next century, Waikapuna remained largely untouched, except for a few former residents who maintained their connections to the land, grazing livestock and using ancient trails and paths for subsistence fishing and access to the iwi kupana (burial sites) of their ancestors. 

Threatened by high-end residential development since the early 2000s, Waikapuna was acquired in December 2019 by the Ala Kahakai Trail Association as the culmination of a sustained cooperative effort by the association, the local communities near the property, The Trust for Public Land (TPL), State and county government agencies, and even the landowner of the property. It took time to arrive at a deal that satisfied all parties. After years of negotiations, TPL acquired the property, then conveyed the property to the Ala Kahakai Trail Association, which in turn simultaneously conveyed a conservation easement to the County of Hawaii, which provided funding from the county’s PONC fund, which in turn was matched by funding from the State.

Kaleo Paik, another member of the association’s board of directors, offered the following advice: “Too often the trail organizations are looking at government agencies to purchase lands. You are not in the decision-making seat unless you own an interest in the land. Now, we are the landowners. We can make decisions that respect our community, that respect the land and our ancestors. Our mission is to support and guide a community-managed trail that honors those who came before and perpetuates for those to follow—with protocols and respect for Hawaii’s past, present, and future. We are following the path of our elders.”     

This case study was produced with support from the Federal Highway Administration.

Download the publication to read the full story of how the Ala Kahakai Trail Association and its partners protected the Waikapuna property:

Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.