Keola Preslar, 16, is participating in the Youth Conservation Corps program at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, where he’s spending his summer doing various conservation projects. On Tuesday, he helped repair the hukilau, a large net used by Hawaiians to catch fish. It will be used during the park’s cultural festival on July 1. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Youth Conservation Corps members Issac Yamamoto, 18, and Keola Preslar, 16, admire the Heleipalala fish pond restoration project they assisted with at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. One of their accomplishments during this summer program is repairing the stone wall in the area where they stand. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Archaeologist MaryAnne Maigret and Pest Controller Midge Casuga help Youth Conservation Corps members Issac Yamamoto, Keola Preslar and Paei Navas-Loa restore a hukilau, a large net used by Hawaiians to catch fish, at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. (Photos by Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Paeai Navas-Loa, 15, is participating in the Youth Conservation Corps program at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, where she’s spending his summer doing various conservation projects. On Tuesday, she helped repair the hukilau, a large net used by Hawaiians to catch fish. It will be used during the park’s cultural festival on July 1. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Some teens spend their summers cruising around town, at the beach or hanging out. Others spend time gathering and preparing leaves — hundreds of them — for Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.
Tuesday morning, three teens diligently tied strips of ti leaves inches apart to ropes attached between trees. They were restoring an approximately 800-foot-long hukilau, a net once used by Hawaiians to catch fish. This fishing method will be re-enacted July 1 during the park’s cultural festival.
This project was one of many the trio will complete as part of Youth Conservation Corps, a work-learn-earn program offered during the summer at several national parks throughout the United States. It helps youths, ages 15 to 18, develop an appreciation for the nation’s natural resources and heritage through unique educational, recreational and work experiences. Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park has maintained a YCC program since the 1970s, said archaeologist MaryAnne Maigret.
Afterwards, YCC members often become involved in the park, whether it’s volunteering or joining the National Park Sevice professionally, said Midge Casuga, a former YCC member from the ’70s and a 12-year pest controller.
For seven weeks, the teens work 40 hours per week for minimum wage, personally having a role in protecting resources, learning firsthand about the issues and seeing the positive or negative impacts. So far, they have weeded native pili grass plots planted near the visitor center and assisted in the removal of invasive vegetation, such as kiawe trees, in park areas.
Those experiences helped tell the story of how the park’s landscape has changed over time and how vegetation can affect the preservation of cultural sites. For example, the area above the park was largely barren lava with pili, commonly used for house thatching. The plots of pili the teens tended to are like nurseries, Maigret said.
They have also assisted in the stabilization of Heleipalala, an estimated 40- by 20-foot spring- and saltwater pond that held fish for the alii. The March 2011 tsunami waves came ashore at the park, over topping walls and surging inland hundreds of feet. The fish pond was damaged. Working alongside experts, the teens learned stone wall masonry construction techniques, Maigret said.
Other upcoming projects include building a shade house to support native plant restoration efforts and the out-planting of coconut trees. They will also visit other local national parks and see YCC projects. In the end, they should be able to evaluate their abilities, as well as clearly outline their knowledge, skills and strengths in a resume.
Throughout the program, teens are exposed to multiple NPS careers. Employees in the maintenance, interpretation and resource management divisions serve as mentors to the youth and lead projects.
“After awhile, they become like family,” said 18-year-old Issac Yamamoto, of his “role models.”
Yamamoto, of Keaau, joined the YCC because he was looking for work. He discovered how much he enjoys learning about the Hawaiian culture, as well as doing hands-on activities that protect and preserve Hawaii’s environment. Unlike other summer jobs available for teens, he said this one is more healthy, rewarding and has more soul. He’s now considering pursuing a park service career because it’s a chance to make a difference.
Keola Preslar, 16, of Hookena, learned about YCC from a substitute teacher. The main reason why he wanted to get a summer job was to have money to fix his truck. Like Yamamoto, he said the program has piqued his interest in the culture, taught him how to work with others and develop skills that will help him later in life, including at any job.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed everything.”