[ OUR OPINION ]
Audubon would be
parks best caretaker
THE National Audubon Society's expertise, resources and prestige make the organization the right fit to operate Waimea Falls Park. The city should award the society the long-term lease it seeks since its aims mesh with the administration's goal to preserve the park's historical, cultural and environmental assets.
The national conservation organization is hoping to get the city's blessing to operate Waimea Falls Park.
The park, covering more than 1,800 acres in Waimea Valley, contains cultural, historical and archaeological sites. Audubon's intent is to move the park from its current entertainment orientation to one that emphasizes education, which would be a much more appropriate use of its natural assets. Further, the Audubon is better positioned to care for the park's 36 botanical gardens and about 6,000 rare species of plants.
Audubon says its operations would be self-sustaining, which would be a relief to city taxpayers as government officials struggle to balance the budget. It would earn money through entrance fees, grants and partnerships, and all revenue would be pumped back into the park.
This plan would benefit residents, who through lower fees would be more likely to visit the facility, and schools and children would be provided a valuable educational resource. Moreover, tourists would be offered an experience they would not be able to get elsewhere. Thrill rides are a dime a dozen, but an immersion in Hawaiian culture and history will prove attractive to visitors, who increasingly are interested in more than sun and surf. Restoration of wetlands throughout the valley, another of Audubon's proposals, will enhance the natural environment of the area.
The city, which hopes to award a lease contract this week, has yet to acquire the property that was placed in bankruptcy in 2001. The City Council cleared condemnation of the park last year, but more recently has raised the idea of selling the land to cut city expenses. Although about $5 million has been pegged for the purchase, the cost likely will be higher when the court determines a final condemnation price. The property's current owner had sought as much as $25 million for the park in 2000. Audubon's proposal has the best chance of minimizing the city's need to sell the land.
The Audubon Society has a goal of establishing 1,000 nature centers and sanctuaries across the country by the year 2020. Hawaii should be the site of at least one of them.