Waimea Valley’s future as cultural institution looks bright
A new nonprofit corporation under the Office of Hawaiian Affairs will take over management of Waimea Valley.
Had the efforts of community and environmental groups not prevailed, Waimea Valley might have become just another subdivision of luxury homes on Oahu.
Instead, the island's last intact ahupuaa will remain whole and its value as a cultural asset likely enhanced as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs begins a promising venture to manage the 1,875-acre site that had been run unsuitably as a theme park.
The agency faces numerous hurdles, among them returning the park operations to profitability while preserving the valley's historic and natural resources.
OHA will assume management of the valley next year, taking over from the National Audubon Society, which has run the Waimea Valley Audubon Center for the past four years. OHA hasn't detailed its plans, except to say that a nonprofit corporation will be set up to handle operations.
The valley, once a spiritual center where Hawaiian high priests installed heiau, supported large groups of people with its mountain-to-sea resources. It contains 78 identified archaeological sites and possibly hundreds of others in unsurveyed areas, several species of native freshwater fish, native plants and thousands of introduced tropical species and a population of endangered Hawaiian moorhen.
For years, it was a tourist attraction with high-diving shows and other entertainment, a train ride and restaurant. In the late 1990s, its owner promoted it as an "adventure park," but was unable to make a profit. When it was put up for sale, community groups petitioned the City Council to condemn the valley to preserve it and prevent further development.
At one point, the Council, at the urging of Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who feared the property's cost would be set too high, considered dividing the valley and allowing luxury homes to be built in its uplands. However, a collection of private groups, city, state and federal agencies and OHA pooled funding to buy the valley with OHA gaining title.
Over the years, attendance at the park dropped and the Audubon Society and OHA could not agree on a long-term management lease. Meanwhile the park's roads, sewage plant and buildings fell into disrepair.
OHA will have to tackles these problems as well as set up a blueprint to maintain the thousands of plants at the park, and to produce enough revenue to preserve cultural resources.
It is a major undertaking, but the reward could be a natural institution for renewing Hawaiian traditions that both visitors and residents can appreciate.