Cultural treasures shine along Kauai trail
During the 23 years she served as executive director of the Poipu Beach Resort Association, Margy Parker became acquainted with many significant natural and historical sites on Kauai's South Shore -- treasures that had, for the most part, been overlooked.
Koloa Heritage Trail
Where: The Koloa Heritage Trail stretches for 10 miles in the Koloa/Poipu area of southern Kauai. It includes 14 sites of cultural, historical and geological significance.
Tour: Self-guided, daily, at your convenience
Phone: Contact the Poipu Beach Resort Association at 808-742-7444 or toll free 888-744-0888 to request a free Koloa Heritage Trail brochure map, or visit a Koloa Town shop to pick up a copy.
Web site: www.koloaheritagetrail.info
Notes: A 2-mile Mahaulepu Coastal Trail, which starts at the east end of Poipu Resort adjacent to the Grand Hyatt Kauai, is being developed with funding from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. No permanent markers will be erected to distract from the beauty of this shoreline route, but the free tour map will make it easy for people to find the eight to 10 important historical sites and four to six notable plants. The project should be completed by April.
So in spring 2000, when Gary Baldwin, Kauai's representative on the Hawaii Tourism Authority board, approached her about coordinating a project that would spotlight such locales, Parker was ecstatic.
Comprising more than 100 members including hoteliers, outfitters, restaurants and shops, PBRA is charged with promoting South Kauai as a visitor destination. Based on statistics the organization had gathered for more than a decade, Parker knew a trend was developing: 40 percent of Poipu's recent visitors planned to participate in a cultural activity during their stay, generating more interest than any other activity except snorkeling and shopping.
"Looking at what was available in terms of cultural experiences in Poipu and Koloa, I found very little," recalls Parker, who has been serving as PBRA's media relations and special-projects manager since resigning as its executive director in August.
"At the same time, I was fully aware of the area's rich history. It had gone from being home to 10,000 Hawaiians farming taro and sweet potatoes to becoming a diverse ethnic community during the plantation era, to its current mix of longtime kamaaina families and a burgeoning visitor population."
Parker had toured national parks in Alaska, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Oregon, where cultural and historical information had been framed as a self-guided experience. She saw the potential for something similar in South Kauai.
"I asked Gary if HTA might be interested in partially funding the efforts to create a route, with markers interpreting significant spots in Poipu and Koloa," Parker says. "He supported the idea and worked with the authority to grant PBRA $20,000 toward the project. That was about 25 percent of the estimated cost. My job was to organize the project, raise money and handle the grant application process."
After receiving permission from PBRA's board of directors to proceed, Parker invited several colleagues on Kauai to join her on a volunteer committee that would bring the Koloa Heritage Trail to fruition.
They included writer and researcher Anne O'Malley; photographer Jo Evans; Val Rekward, owner of Tsunami Marketing, an award-winning graphics and brand-imaging firm; signage professional Ranny Warburton of Signwaves; David Thorp, branch manager of Koloa Library; Lei Saito, manager of the Old Koloa Town Merchants Association; and Rick Haviland, who was then president of the Koloa Community Association.
COURTESY OF THE POIPU BEACH RESORT ASSOCIATION
The Koloa Missionary Church, part of the Koloa Heritage Trail, was part of a homestead once owned by medical missionary Dr. James W. Smith.
BY LATE 2000 the group had pinpointed the cultural, historical, archaeological and geological locations for the trail; fine-tuned a central theme and logo; decided how the bronze plaques on lava rock mounts would look and what information they would share; approved the design for a map and brochure; and rounded up funding sources.
On March 21, 2001, a year after the idea for it was conceived, the Koloa Heritage Trail officially opened with a ceremony that included blessings by a Buddhist priest and a Christian minister.
"We initially came up with a 10-mile route featuring 13 different sites," says Parker. "A 14th site, Kihahouna Heiau (Temple), was added in 2004 with the help of Stella Burgess, director of Hawaiian culture at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa. This ancient heiau was dedicated to four Hawaiian gods -- Kane, Kuhaimoana, Kamohoalii and Hulukoki -- and measured 90 by 130 feet. Portions of the heiau's stone platform could be seen until wave action from Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and Hurricane Iniki in 1992 destroyed them. But Hawaiians today say you can still feel the special mana (life force) of the place."
Such fascinating stories also are shared at the Koloa Heritage Trail's other locations. For example, the lithified Makawehi and Paa Dunes, which rise at the east end of Keoneloa Bay, reveal the fossilized remains of birds, plants, crabs, snails and other creatures that once lived on the southern coast.
COURTESY OF THE POIPU BEACH RESORT ASSOCIATION
Pa'u A Laka (Moir Gardens) along the Koloa Heritage Trail contains a collection of plants and cactuses planted by the wife of a Koloa Plantation manager.
The Sugar Monument at the entrance to Koloa town recalls the storied plantation era. In 1835, Koloa Plantation became the first company in Hawaii to successfully process sugar cane commercially for export. That spurred other Kauai entrepreneurs to establish plantations and hire thousands of workers from China, Japan, Germany, Portugal and the Philippines to work in their fields and mills. At the peak of Kauai's sugar industry in the early 1900s, 11 plantations were scattered throughout the island.
Built in 1910, the Koloa Jodo Mission provided Japanese immigrants of the Buddhist faith with a place to worship, study their language, learn martial arts and participate in social events. Carpenters from Japan were retained to construct the interior of the larger of the mission's two temples. Its ceiling is inlaid with wooden tiles, each hand-painted with a different blossom.
Prince Kuhio Park marks the birthplace of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, who served as Hawaii's delegate to the U.S. Congress for 19 years from March 4, 1903, until his death on Jan. 7, 1922. Kuhio's most important achievement was the July 9, 1921, enactment of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which dedicated 200,000 acres of island lands for farms and house lots for people of at least one-half Hawaiian ancestry.
Parker is obviously pleased when she points out the honors the Koloa Heritage Trail has received, including a Hawaii Historic Preservation Award from the Historic Hawai'i Foundation in 2001 and a Kahili award from the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau's "Keep It Hawaii" program in 2002. Out of 136 entries that year, only 16 Kahili awards were presented. The Koloa Heritage Trail was the only Kahili the island of Kauai took home.
Although these accolades have been gratifying, Parker says the most valuable reward for her has been observing how the trail has touched lives.
"The significant attributes of these locales instill in Koloa and Poipu residents a sense of pride in their culture and heritage," she notes. "For newcomers, learning about the history of the region adds depth to their visit there. I also believe that offering a visual, tactile interpretive experience provides children with an interesting, meaningful way of studying the past."
And, of course, there's the joy and satisfaction of seeing the amazing results when a community pulls together for a worthwhile cause.
"The Koloa Heritage Trail takes you on an incredible journey from the time Kauai was born 5 million years ago to the present," says Parker. "It shows that there's so much more to South Kauai than sunshine and beautiful beaches."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.