JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Breathtaking views of Moanalua Valley are available from an overlook along the hiking trail.
State buys Oahu ‘treasure’
Upper Moanalua Valley, "one of Oahu's natural treasures," is state land now, officials announced today.
The $5.5 million purchase from the Samuel Mills Damon Estate ensures that 3,716 acres of undeveloped forest land -- at one time considered as a possible route for the H-3 freeway or for a housing subdivision -- will continue as conservation land, said Lea Hong, Hawaiian Islands program director for the Trust for Public Land.
Hong led several friends on a hike in the upper valley yesterday, which is a separate parcel from the better-known Moanalua Gardens, in the lower valley.
"What a great spot," Oahu resident Ried Fischer said almost immediately after the group began hiking up a former carriage trail into the lush greenery.
Over the course of several hours, Hong showed Fischer, his wife, Cori Lau, and their friend Lulik Hadar some of the valley's treasures: a pohaku (stone) with unique petroglyphs, seven stone bridges hand-crafted by Italian masons in the late 1800s, and historic home sites.
The group might have even seen an Oahu elepaio, one of three endangered bird species for which the valley's five types of native forest and nine miles of streams offer some of the best habitat for their survival on Oahu.
"It's hard to say. It was moving fast," Hong said of the small bird, known as a symbol of Hawaiian canoe making.
The valley also is home to 14 endangered or rare plant species and two species of endangered tree snails.
But a person does not have to see the endangered creatures to "get" that the valley is special, the hiking group agreed yesterday.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hikers Lea Hong, right, and Cori Lau walked yesterday along one of the old stone bridges built by the Damon Estate in the 1890s.
The towering trees, the sound of dozens of birds singing in the forest -- these are treats enough. There is even a spot on the trail where one call almost always see at a bit of blue sky, even on a rainy day.
"It's called Kamawaelualani, or the rift in the heavens," Hong said pointing upward, where there were a few cloudless patches, though it rained on the group later.
"I think it's great if they maintain it for public access," Fischer said. To try and bring infrastructure services up the valley and put housing there "would be a crime," he said.
The Trust for Public Land assisted with the sale from the Samuel Mills Damon Estate to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Funding for the buy included $3 million from the Legislature, $1.6 from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Grant, and $900,000 from the Army. The deal has been in the works for several years, since the Damon Estate put the land up for sale.
Tim Johns, the Damon Estate's chief operating officer, said in a written statement, "Moanalua Valley is one of Oahu's natural treasures. We were glad to work with the Trust for Public Land and the state of Hawaii to ensure future generations will be able to enjoy its resources."
The DLNR's Division of Forestry and Wildlife will manage the valley for public hiking, hunting, cultural resource preservation and education, and for wildlife preservation, said Paul Conry, division administrator. A public hearing on formally putting the land into the forest reserve system will be held in coming months, he said.
DLNR Director Peter Young called the buy "another example of a variety of people working together to help protect a special place. ... I think it's something that future generations are going to appreciate the effort that was made."
"Moanalua Valley is home to a remarkable array of endangered species, especially considering how close it is to urban Honolulu. ... Properties like this are increasingly rare," Patrick Leonard, project leader for the Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Islands office, said in a statement.