After a decades-long collaborative effort, nonprofit Hawaiʻi Land Trust (HILT), in partnership with nonprofit Nā Kālai Waʻa, federal, state and county agencies, and the Kohala community announced in December that they successfully closed on its largest purchase, permanently protecting 642 acres at Mahukona on the Kohala coast of Hawaiʻi Island.
The property includes the coastal regions of six ahupuaʻa, including a portion of the famed Kohala Field System. This expansive landscape provides habitat for threatened and endangered native plants and animals. It is also a rare space for Hawaiian cultural practice and subsistence gathering to thrive.
Mahukona holds layered histories as a bustling harbor town and was a training ground for non-instrumental navigation for 1,000 years. To date, 175 ancient cultural sites have been identified in the area, including four heiau, agricultural and housing villages and complexes, shrines, burials, and ancient trails. Among these sites is Koʻa Heiau Holomoana, a navigational heiau known and highly regarded throughout Moananuiākea.
Since the 1980s, the lands were slated for various development proposals, with a portion of the property previously zoned for resort development.
HILT and Nā Kālai Waʻa will co-steward Koʻa Heiau Holomoana and associated cultural sites with generational ʻohana providing ʻāina- and culture-based educational opportunities. Nā Kālai Waʻa will continue using a warehouse it renovated on-site where it drydocks its voyaging canoe Makaliʻi and other sailing vessels.
Hawaiʻi County’s Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Commission ranked Mahukona its number one priority for protection in 2020, understanding the significance of the place; members of the Kohala community have been nominating Mahukona for protection every year since 2012.
With the support of the county, State Department of Land and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and private contributors, HILT raised $18.86 million to purchase the land toward the total project goal of $20 million.
“We feel so privileged to have been welcomed by Nā Kālai Waʻa and lineal descendants of Mahukona to a place of such cultural significance and community importance,” said HILT President and CEO ʻOlu Campbell. “I am grateful for the community’s trust in our organization to close this acquisition and take on perpetual stewardship of these lands.”
“This huge undertaking ensures the safeguarding of cultural sites, fosters environmental resilience, and highlights community-based stewardship on a truly massive scale,” said Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth. “[These] contributions are instrumental in shaping a Hawaiʻi Island where our keiki can thrive and succeed for generations to come.”
“Twenty years from now, Koʻa Heiau Holomoana will continue to be that school — it will continue to write the stories from this generation now, to allow them to see the importance of caring for place,” said Chadd Paison, senior captain, Pwo navigator and executive director of Nā Kālai Waʻa.
“The protection of Mahukona in perpetuity means that Hawaiʻi’s people will always have a foundational site of navigation that connects us to all of the Pacific,” said Department of Land and Natural Resources Deputy Director Laura Kaakua. “May traditional Hawaiian navigation and ʻāina stewardship practices thrive forever more at Mahukona and across Hawaiʻi.”
To help HILT raise the remaining $1.14 million needed for community co-stewardship of Mahukona go to: www.hilt.org/mahukona.