Hawaii Forest & Trail president and co-founder Rob Pacheco, left,explains some of Hawaii Island’s fascinating geology during a guided KohalaWaterfalls Hike. (Hawaii Forest & Trail/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Rob and Cindy Pacheco founded Hawaii Forest & Trail back in May 1993 with a vision to share Hawaii’s natural history while educating about the importance of conserving the environment.
Twenty years after the company’s first bird watching tour, the couple continues to do just that — just on a little larger scale.
Today, the eco-adventure tour company staffs 77 employees providing nine different tours, including zipline tours and volcano, waterfall, Mauna Kea and bird watching tours. That’s in addition to private and customized full- and half-day charter tours, said Rob Pacheco, the company’s president. Kohala Zipline, the isle’s first tree-to-tree tour, was established by the couple in 2011.
Now, Hawaii Forest & Trail is expanding, again, said Pacheco.
The company, one of the few with private land and controlled wildlife refuge access, will begin construction of a new two-story 5,800-square-foot headquarters and retail shop located near Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union in the Kaloko Light Industrial Area, he said. The building is currently in the planning stage.
“Our retail space is going to triple in size. We’ll have expanded offerings for travel wear, camping, backpacking, nature gear et cetera, and a full place for our fleet and a larger guest waiting area,” he said. “We needed to expand. We were really cramped here” in a rented unit within the industrial area.
Pacheco, who worked as a naturalist on the U.S. mainland prior to starting Hawaii Forest & Trail, recognized that most residents and visitors were seeing Hawaii’s beautiful scenery yet they were leaving with little knowledge about Hawaii’s natural history. He combined his passion for the island’s natural beauty with the need to educate visitors and residents about conservation and the idea for the company was born.
Today, the company is known for its knowledgeable and qualified guides with strong academic backgrounds in biology, geology, Hawaiian history and extensive natural field experience. Pacheco said it’s those things that set Hawaii Forest & Trail apart from other companies offering tours.
“Hawaii Forest & Trail is built on an interpretive foundation and interpretation is the profession. It’s about interpreting resources and helping visitors connect to those in an emotional and intellectual way,” he said. “We’re not an ecotour company, not a hiking company, we’re basically a natural interpretive company.”
Hawaii Forest & Trail has attracted attention from major national and international media and has been featured in Town & Country, National Geographic Traveler, E-Entertainment, the New York Times, the Robb Report, CNN’s “Travel Guide,” NBC’s “Evening Magazine,” Fox TV’s “No Boundaries” and The Travel Channel, according to the company.
The company has also earned various awards including in 1998 when the Pachecos were named as Big Island Entrepreneur of the Year by the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce and in 2006 when Hawaii Forest & Trail was recognized as the Hawaii Ecotourism Association’s Ecotour Operator of the Year, according to the company.
More recent accolades include: No. 2 Best Land Activity/Adventure Tour Company from Hawaii Magazine’s 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards; Favorite Hawaii Island Activity Company from About.com’s 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards; West Hawaii Today’s Best of West Hawaii Best Guided Outdoor Activity in 2010, ‘11 and ‘12; Rand McNally’s 2009 Best of the Road Editor’s Pick; and inclusion in Islands Magazine Blue List.
Hawaii Forest & Trail’s vision to conserve while educating is exemplified by its sponsorship of free field trips for island students. The company also participates in tree plantings and various community service projects year-round.
To celebrate the company’s two-decades in business, Hawaii Forest & Trail is launching a community program called “E Hoomalauo,” which translated means “Conserve our Natural Resources.” The program will allow the company’s employees the chance to give back even more, Pacheco said.
Through the program, Hawaii Forest & Trail will partner with island nonprofits aligned with the company’s mission of conservation and education and values via fundraising, tours, volunteer workdays or other means that would best benefit the nonprofit.
“We wanted to recognize them for the good work that they do in conservation and for the community,” he said adding that without the organizations’ work Hawaii Forest & Trail would not have the unique locations that fuel the business’ success.
Partners this year are: Bishop Museum, North Kohala Community Resource Center, The Nature Conservancy, Friends of Hakalau, Hawaii Wildlife Center, West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery, Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kohala Center, Kohala Watershed Partnership and the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, which is affiliated with the San Diego Zoo.
Bishop Museum will be the first beneficiary with a May 18 opportunity for 23 to take part in a Hawaii Forest & Trail Bird Watching Adventure to Hakaalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.
For more information on the company, visit hawaii-forest.com.