The sound of rakes scraping over gravel and shovels striking dirt and rocks might have been music to Toni Fortin Blair’s ears.
Fortin Blair was one of the driving forces behind creating the shared-use pathway that runs from Lako Street to Kamehemaha III Road and which, as of Saturday, will now bear her name. County officials agreed last month to rename the path the Old Walua Road Toni Fortin Blair Memorial Bicycle and Pedestrian Scenic Path.
A few hours before the formal dedication of the new name, a few dozen volunteers pitched in to pour gravel, plant royal poinciana trees, repaint the entrance gate at Lako Street and clear fallen leaves and other debris from a segment of the path.
“It’s just so cool,” Waimea resident Lisen Twigg-Smith said of the turnout for the path beautification project.
A good friend of Fortin Blair’s, Twigg-Smith said her friend would be “so thrilled about what we’re doing here. She was so dedicated to this trail.”
Buki Hudson of Kailua-Kona agreed that Fortin Blair would approve of the work and described her friend, who died last year.
Fortin Blair’s outlook on life was to “embrace any adventure you can and go for the ride,” Hudson said.
Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii organized the cleanup and spearheaded the effort to rename the path in Fortin Blair’s honor. Gerry Rott, who was on PATH’s board in the mid-1990s when the group decided to pursue the walkway, said Fortin Blair took the lead on the project, meeting with county officials to explain the concept.
“Toni had done the research and found out there was a county easement” in the area that became the shared-use pathway, Rott said. “She pushed for it. She wasn’t going to take no for an answer.”
PATH members at the time were hoping for a larger project, then realized they needed to pick one idea and get it in the ground.
The end result was the roughly six-mile round trip path now used heavily by walkers, joggers, parents pushing strollers and bicyclists.
The Walua trail, as community members sometimes call it, opened in 1996. Rott said it was a joint effort between Hawaii County officials, who were helpful throughout the process, and PATH volunteers.
Saturday’s cleanup was also a joint effort, she said, this time between PATH members, Fortin Blair’s friends and community members who use the path.
“It just shows what a community effort can do,” Rott said.
PATH members helped clear the overgrown former roadway.
“We all had big weed whackers,” Rott said. “It was a little harder work then. It was little bits at a time.”
A number of community organizations and businesses donated supplies for Saturday’s clean up. The Lions Club donated three benches to place at the trailhead, PATH Executive Director Tina Clothier said.
PATH is establishing a Friends of the Park agreement with the county for the trail. Such agreements allow a nonprofit group to help with maintenance of county facilities, such as the shared-use trail.
“This is a dream come true for us,” former PATH Executive Director Laura Dierenfield said. “Hopefully this will be the start of many future working days and opportunities for people to get involved with PATH and create more trails like this.”