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Monday, June 6, 2005



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The Menehune Fishpond near Lihue is on the market for $12 million. Many agree that the fishpond, on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973, is one of the rarest and most significant cultural and archaeological sites on Kauai.



Fishpond on Kauai
goes up for sale

The centuries-old cultural treasure is
part of 102 acres worth $12 million

LIHUE » According to Hawaiian legend, an ancient king on Kauai once made a deal with a mythical race of little people to build a fishpond in one night.

The menehune worked hard through the night, meticulously cutting and shaping lava rock to build a 900-foot wall to keep out the river but allow young fish to swim into the pond, where they would grow too large to swim back out.

Many agree that the Menehune Fishpond, on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973, is one of the rarest and most significant cultural and archaeological sites on Kauai.

It is also for sale.

The owners, who live on Oahu, are asking $12 million for the 102-acre site a few miles inland from Nawiliwili Harbor that includes the fishpond. The listing notes that only one house may be built on the property, which is located in a conservation district.

The property is listed on the Internet and has been advertised in mainland real estate publications. So far there have been no offers, although several potential buyers on the mainland have expressed interest, according to Dixie Daniel, the real estate agent representing the seller, the Okada family of Oahu.

The Menehune Fishpond was built about 580 years ago, according to David Burney, a paleoecologist on leave from Fordham University in New York who conducted core dating on the pond.

"That pond, of course, is monumental, monumental stone work," Burney, who is now director of conservation at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Lawai.

Fishponds go back to the Hawaiian Islands' earliest history, when the Tahitians first arrived. Scientists have estimated some are 800 years old, Burney said.

But the Kauai fishpond for sale is exceptional, he said.

"To me this is the ultimate fishpond," said Burney. "What makes it kind of special here on Kauai is the way the stones are fitted."

Ancient Hawaiians often used lava rock to build walls, but they typically shaped them to fit together instead of cutting them into blocks.

"Hawaiians didn't typically cut rock to build something," said Michael Graves, an archaeology professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Although no one knows who really built the fishpond, named Alekoko, it is known that until relatively recently it was teeming with fish and provided the local community with an abundance of food.

LaFrance Kapaka-Arboleda, who grew up in the area, remembers eating awa and mullet from the pond as a kid during the 1940s and '50s. There was also someone who oversaw the use of the pond and would limit the amount of fish that could be taken, she said.

"It was a thriving, thriving fishery area," said Kapaka-Arboleda, who is now the Kauai community resource coordinator for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

But today the rock wall is overgrown with invasive mangrove, the pond is full of silt and few people fish there.

The small overlook from a rural road leading out of Nawiliwili Harbor is neglected. A small sign telling visitors how the pond was built is faded from the sun and covered with graffiti.

Kayakers get a closer look as they paddle through the adjacent Huleia National Wildlife Refuge, where director Steven Spielberg filmed scenes for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Jurassic Park."

"If you kayak up the river where the old makaha (gate) is, when the water is high enough, I've seen paddlers paddle in," said Nancy McMahon, the state's archaeologist for Kauai County.

McMahon noted that the ancient lava rock wall along Huleia Stream is "pretty overgrown with mangrove, so it would take a lot to repair the fishpond."

Don Heacock, an aquatic biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources who lives on a 20-acre farm next door to the fishpond, said he has seen the Menehune Fishpond become more overgrown over the years.

"I've taken pictures of it for the last 24 years since I moved here from Maui, and it's getting smaller and smaller," he said.

The property's owners, the Okada family, rarely visit anymore, so they put the property on the market in March, said Daniel, who is also the spokeswoman for the family. The family has owned it since the 1980s, when they purchased it from Kanoa Estate, she said.

Daniel said that when she first listed the property, she contacted several Hawaiian and conservation groups about acquiring the fishpond, but there was no interest. She has taken people from the local community to see the fishpond up close, but since it is private property, most must settle for the view from the overlook or from the river.

"It's one of those places that's so special it's just a shame that it's not part of our state, or something that can be shared with a lot more people," she said.

Heacock believes the fishpond should be restored and turned into a research and education center, to teach local schoolchildren about sustainable aquaculture and agriculture.

"It could be an incredible teaching and demonstration resource for Hawaiian aquaculture," he said. "We just can't lose resources like Alekoko. They're too precious, they're too unique."



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