The Trust for Public Lands is seeking to expand its portfolio in South Kona, and in doing so, expand Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.
Sen. Brian Schatz, in Hawaii during a congressional break, said he wanted to take a look at some Hawaii Island projects and asked to visit the park and the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, a portion of which runs through the park. The Trust for Public Lands acquired a large parcel at Kiilae in 2004, which it then turned over to the National Park System. Trust officials hope to do the same with a 70-acre coastline parcel south of the Kiilae land, at Kauleoli.
“It’s an exciting community project,” Schatz said. “We’re going to do everything we can” to help the organizations get funding for the purchase.
The senator, a Democrat who grew up on Oahu, had never been on the park’s 1871 trail, which includes a restored ramp and gives hikers views of heiau, a holua slide and other historical sites along the South Kona coast. At the top of the Alahaka Ramp, Schatz stood several minutes, taking the view to the north and south, listening to descendants of the land discuss its history and cultural significance.
Schatz said he recently co-sponsored legislation to allow projects on the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund list to remain there permanently. Now, projects on the list must be renewed annually, which can slow the process, he said.
“There’s $900 million nationally for these kinds of projects,” Schatz said. “When the federal government doesn’t have the budget, these projects get hung up.”
Schatz said he would “let other people speculate” on whether his turning his attention to projects such as the land acquisition at Kauleoli was an effort to have accomplishments on his congressional resume when he needs to seek re-election in 2014. Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Schatz to replace the late Sen. Daniel Inouye in December. The appointment is only a two-year term.
Hong and Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail Superintendent Aric Arakaki were excited to see Schatz’s interest in the trail and in expanding the park.
“Every year, we go for an appropriation from the Congress,” Arakaki said. “It’s just a matter of getting support from the Congress.”
Taking Schatz on the tour Monday morning may help the park system, Arakaki said, because the senator supports the parks service and seeing the park grow.
Hong said she sent a letter of intent to the owner of the 70 acres, Tom Pace, who is open to the idea of selling to the trust. She said she doesn’t have a possible purchase price for the property, because the land hasn’t been appraised.
Puuhonua o Honaunau officials said it has been about a decade since a sitting U.S. senator has toured the park. The most recent was former Sen. Daniel Akaka, who retired last year.
Schatz said his office will follow up with parks service officials to see the funding request keeps moving.
“We’re optimistic the National Parks Service is going to approve the next phase of what will be an extraordinary legacy for Hawaii Island,” Schatz said.