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Volunteers lead charge to renovate Kaipalaoa Landing

Updated: 
July 29, 2014 - 12:05am

It serves as the northern gateway to Hilo’s bayfront, one of East Hawaii’s great “wahi pana,” or celebrated locations.

So, the fact that Kaipalaoa Landing — the small, half-acre parcel at the base of Waianuenue Avenue makai of Bayfront Highway — is littered with garbage, frequented by the homeless, and often overlooked by residents and tourists just doesn’t sit right with Stan Lawrence and other members of a group dedicated to turning the area into a park.

“Kaipaloa is a sacred place. There’s so much history there,” said Lawrence, who heads the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association’s Malama Kaipalaoa Working Group and owns and operates Orchidland Surfboards Inc. “It should be a park, and not a dump. It shouldn’t be a pock mark for Hilo.”

In addition to currently serving as a recreation spot for surfers and fishermen, the small strip of land once served as a campground and favored surf spot for King Kamehameha I and is purported to be the location where he proclaimed the Law of the Splintered Paddle, guaranteeing every person in Hawaii the right to camp by the roadside without fear of harm.

It was also during Kamehameha’s stay in the area, long before he managed to unite the Hawaiian Islands, that Hilo town earned its name, according to legend. As Kamehameha set off from Kaipalaoa to visit a friend in the vicinity of Reed’s Island, he instructed his servants to stand watch over his canoe to ensure it would not be carried away by the tide or stolen.

“As time passed, Kamehameha’s men became worried for his safety, but they dared not leave the canoe unattended. One of the men taught the others to make a ti-leaf rope by twisting the leaves together. Such twisting is called ‘hilo.’ They took this rope and tied the canoe and set out to look for Kamehameha,” according to Malama Kaipalaoa’s website.

“A short way up the river, they met Kamehameha unharmed. At first angered that his men did not keep their promise to watch the canoe, Kamehameha was surprised that they knew how to make such a rope that only people from Waipio knew how to do. The man who had taught the others said he came from Waipio. Kamehameha declared that this place be called Hilo.”

The state, which owns the property, transferred management to the county last year for the purpose of establishing a park. Then on June 20, the county Planning Department approved the project for a Special Management Area designation, allowing limited development along coastal areas.

The plan is to repair various sections of the walls and surfaces, construct an entry courtyard, walkway and outdoor shower facilities, and to install a picnic table, as well as other minor improvements, according to Ron Terry, who submitted the Special Management Area permit for the group.

“Most of the guys, almost everyone, involved in this project is a surfer, and we have watched the quality of that area degrade over time because of neglect,” he said. “There were dirty diapers, broken glass. … And it’s our main way into the water at Bayfront.”

Malama Kaipalaoa has partnered with the Mokupapapa Discovery Center to see the renovations come to fruition, as well as providing various educational opportunities for the community using the natural resources at the site. Together they have secured $40,000 in county funds for the first phase of the project.

Meanwhile, the groups have become Friends of the Park through the Department of Parks and Recreation, which will oversee major maintenance for the facility, while the volunteers will be charged with day-to-day upkeep.

For more information on the effort to build the park, visit malama-kaipalaoa.weebly.com.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.