Manoa Neighborhood Board Member Chuck Pearson, left, and University of Hawaii at Manoa Chancellor Peter Englert examined a slice taken from a fallen tree yesterday during a guided tour marking the arboretum's reopening to the public.

Arboretum reopens
to the public

The UH facility was closed for
four months for safety issues

A week after a scathing report by the state auditor, the University of Hawaii's Lyon Arboretum in Manoa opens its doors to the public today.

The botanical gardens had a pre-opening yesterday after a four-month shutdown for safety reasons. UH-Manoa Chancellor Peter Englert and arboretum staff members and supporters inspected the grounds.

"I'm privileged to do that as the first act of the University of Hawaii at Manoa administration of the year 2005, and I hope it's symbolic in a sense," Englert said before taking a hike yesterday around a tiny portion of the expansive 194-acre site.

For now, the arboretum will open only on weekdays, but Englert stressed the need to open on Sundays to make the arboretum more accessible to the public.

"It's a public resource," he said. "They want to have access to this natural beauty, to the variety of plants."

The university shut down the botanical park Aug. 27 for a variety of safety issues. Many of the structures are on the verge of collapse from age and termite damage. The public, including volunteers, were not allowed on site, but UH employees, students working on projects and others who do business with the university were given access.

Six buildings remain closed. The two that are open are the laboratory and classrooms now used for offices. All five greenhouses are open, but two small snail greenhouses have been abandoned.

The main office now has a high-capacity septic tank, which should be sufficient for visitors, and a handicapped-accessible portable toilet is also available, said Ray Baker, research associate at Lyon Arboretum.

Baker said there are issues regarding the gift shop and classes to be worked out with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources before the arboretum opens on Saturdays.

During the closure, large trees about to fall were cut, low-hanging utility lines were removed and walkway surfaces were made safe.

Englert said the $500,000 annual budget to operate the arboretum is not sufficient, but there are other pressing needs that vie for funding at UH, including teaching and research.

State Auditor Marion Higa said in a report released last Monday that the university's decades of neglect of the arboretum led to mismanagement and tolerance of the physical deterioration. Higa's report said legislators should be assured that problems that led to the deterioration will be eliminated before approving the $3 million sought by the university for further improvements.

Higa's report said the arboretum's lack of a mission was caused by the university's disinterest in the park.

James Gaines, the university's interim vice president for research, has appointed a task force to review the arboretum's mission and how it should fit into the university's mission.

Dr. Rainer Bussman, scientific director of the Lyon Arboretum and associate professor, said the original idea for the arboretum was to re-create a tropical rain forest. The park's more than 5,000 plant species can also serve as a source of genetic material for tropical plants, some of which might now be extinct in their natural habitats and could be a key component for a worldwide study of tropical rain forests.

But Bussman said the arboretum's mission must now include a study of endangered Hawaiian species.

"What I'd really like to see is a center for ethnobotanical research," said Kawika Winter, a graduate research assistant at the arboretum. He would also like to see a native Hawaiian forest.

"If it was up to me, everything would be all Hawaiian," he said. Although he does not see that happening, he said there is enough room to do it all.

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