Dreams take flight over Old Airport Park
KAILUA-KONA » Community members are full of new visions for Kona's Old Airport Park.
At an informal community meeting last week, a stream of sports enthusiasts pitched their ideas: a skateboard park, more tennis courts, volleyball courts, a dog park, and clubhouses for up to eight canoe clubs.
Trying to fit everyone's wish into the 118-acre oceanfront park will be a challenge. Funding all the improvements has not even been discussed yet.
"This is a work in progress," said Pat Engelhard, Hawaii County parks and recreation director. "It's kind of nebulous right now. We have had the park for two months, but it will eventually take the shape people want."
The 118-acre oceanfront park now incorporates Kona's original airport, with the pothole-pocked runway serving as a parking lot and the crumbling terminal building housing expensive koa canoes.
Old Airport Park features sandy and grassy areas, picnic tables, bathrooms, a large events pavilion, numerous oceanfront smaller pavilions, a walking/jogging path, and baseball and soccer fields. Also within the complex are a gym, swimming pool, inline skating hockey rink and four outdoor tennis courts.
The transfer of 85 acres, owned by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, into county jurisdiction was completed Jan. 1. The transfer had been considered for more than three decades, thwarted at times by indecision and no clear vision.
The county has earmarked $500,000 to begin a new master plan.
Teacher and skateboarder Nina Oakley urged building a skate park and was cheered by more than four dozen young skateboarders.
"We need a place where skating is OK and not destructive to property," Oakley said. "We also need a safe place for (kids) to play and hang out with friends."
Skateboarder Brandon Marshall, 16, said he has played a variety of sports from soccer to basketball but now spends most of his time trying to find a place to skateboard.
"We're not here to harm people," he said. "At least they have some tennis courts. It would definitely be a shame to see everything go up and not have a skate park."
Meanwhile, Kelly Drysdale, secretary of the Kona Community Tennis Association, said West Hawaii hotels are converting tennis courts into other uses, and soon the Old Airport Park's four courts will be the only ones left.
In West Hawaii more than 600 adults belong to the U.S. Tennis Association, and an additional 200 juniors regularly play, Drysdale said, "and these four courts truly cannot support 1,000 players."
She urged five acres to be set aside for 12 more courts and a stadium court that could host the annual state tournament, which draws 250-300 contestants, and possibly lower-tier professional tournaments.
Jerry Halverson, president of Kai Opua Canoe Club, said a new clubhouse is critical as the old airport terminal is full of termites and is frequently broken into by vagrants.
"It's a fire hazard," he said. "We have three koa canoes in there worth $40,000 each and another 22 fiberglass ones."
The canoe club, in a deal with the state and county, has a lease on five acres within the park and has begun construction on a new 6,000-square-foot building.
"We're a little short of money right now," he said, "and we have more land than we need. We can convey some of it back to the county. We want to be good neighbors."
Halverson said he is optimistic about the park's future.
"It'll take five years to come to fruition, but the county will do it," he said. "They are under pressure from all these groups."