Gathering Places


Thursday, March 6, 2003

Audubon best caretaker
for Waimea Falls Park

Audubon's proposed plan for Waimea Falls Park would combine the best of three worlds: the protection of island resources and culture; the provision of quality jobs and economic opportunity for our community; and the provision of a high-quality educational experience for visitors and residents alike. This is why we encourage the City and County of Honolulu to embark on the path proposed by both the Waimea Falls Park Community Master Plan and the National Audubon Society.

In early 2001, Mayor Harris declared that obtaining Waimea Valley is important for the public because, "the city intends to preserve and protect the historical, cultural and environmental assets of the park." With that declared purpose, the City and County began condemnation proceedings for the 1,800 acres known as Waimea Falls Park and got the authority to designate which private entity would be granted a long-term lease to manage the park. The city now is in the process of determining who will receive that lease, and a decision is expected soon.

An aerial view of Waimea Falls Park on Oahu's North Shore.

One of the proposals submitted is the National Audubon Society's plan to return Waimea Falls Park to an environmental and cultural education center geared toward residents and tourists alike. With a $68 million annual budget and more than $220 million in assets, Audubon has established itself as a stable leader in environmental education, educational facility maintenance, and in the protection and conservation of wildlife and habitat. Audubon has a nation-wide membership of 600,000, and its award-winning Audubon magazine reaches more than 1.75 million people.

Audubon also brings money into the communities in which it works, having raised more than $75 million in capital campaigns for Audubon Centers around the country during the past six years.

Audubon's goal is to move Waimea from a primarily entertainment-focused experience to one that emphasizes meaningful education about the valley's inspiring cultural and environmental assets. Tourists will remain the majority of the park's visitors, but the focus of the activities in the park will be toward educating local children and adults. Operations will be self-sustained through earned income, an endowment and grants and partnerships. Due to Audubon's solid financial status, the taxpayers of Honolulu will not subsidize its operation and all revenues will be re-invested into the park.

This approach has won the support of 30 local and state-wide nonprofit organizations, more than 20 North Shore businesses and hundreds of residents. Also, the Friends of Waimea Falls Park Coalition and Hui o Waimea formed to serve as partners with the community and the city to leverage resources to restore Waimea.

Visitors make it clear that they relish the experience of interacting with local people. That cannot easily happen if local people see no reason to go to places like Waimea Falls Park. As the future of Waimea and tourism in Hawaii move forward, it is important to remember that the best way to make any attraction a success for visitors is to make it appealing and worthwhile for those who live here. Audubon, the North Shore community, other partners, and the City and County of Honolulu can work together to make this happen.

Aunty Kaula Chun, a North Shore kupuna and former Waimea Falls Park employee; Sen. Carol Fukunaga, chairwoman of the Senate Economic Development Committee; Tom Lenchanko, president of Ike Aina; and biologist Steven Montgomery are supporters of the Friends of Waimea Falls Park Coalition.

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