Hawaiians offer input on improving U.S. parks
KAILUA-KONA » The National Park Service, looking for ideas to mark its centennial, heard from Hawaii residents who asked the agency last month to give native Hawaiians more of a voice and to be sensitive to their culture and burial grounds.
Federal officials have been on a national listening tour to promote a Bush administration plan to give the national park system a $3 billion gift for its 100th birthday in 2016.
Jonathan Jarvis, regional director for the service's Pacific West region, told about two dozen Big Island residents in the only Hawaii "listening session" that the centennial initiative will strengthen the government's commitment to protecting and preserving Hawaii's culture.
"We need to reconnect the public with our parks, especially our children," he said. "We really want to start looking to the next 100 years and what national parks mean to the American people."
President Bush wants recommendations by May 31 on the Interior Department's plans for the park system's centennial, officials said.
Island parks range from the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, which tells the story of World War II in the Pacific, to Haleakala National Park on Maui and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, which are among the state's biggest visitor destinations.
Several Big Island natives and residents called for more planning involvement and job opportunities for locals.
Jimmy Medeiros, whose family has had ties to the Honaunau region for generations, said he would like to see native Hawaiians invited to join the planning process for parks that include ancient sites.
For example, native Hawaiians would prefer that guns be banned from parks that have heiau, or temples, he said.
"That's our church, you know," he said. "And no picnic areas in our burial areas. They are not all Yogi Bear picnic parks here."
Hugh "Buttons" Lovell, a former police officer, said he hopes the future includes a strong sense of the past.
"Hawaii is such a fragile place, and the National Park Service is a little oasis in the middle of it," Lovell said. "We can never go back, but the concept of Hawaii is still here. We need to find the balance."
Lovell said native people from Alaska to Indian tribes to Hawaiians should be consulted about their traditional homelands.
"My hope is they won't take over a chunk of land and exclude the people," he said. "They need to go to the families that actually lived on the land and know how to take care of it."
Jarvis said he recognizes the importance of the park service in preserving, protecting and promoting America's cultures and natural treasures.
"We are very aware of, and sensitive to, indigenous peoples' concerns," he said. "The challenge is figuring out that balance between protecting a life-way and an ecosystem at the same time."
The Bush administration has proposed a $258 million increase in national parks' funding in fiscal 2008 to $2.4 billion -- the largest increase in history.
But beyond that, the proposal offers a 10-year plan of an additional $100 million each year for operations, including restoring some 3,000 seasonal park rangers, and $100 million more annually in federal money to match $100 million in new private giving for special centennial projects.
Parks advocates have said the park system has been operating with a shortfall of more than $800 million, resulting in a backlog of maintenance work and land acquisition.