A Matter Of Faith

Green Magazine Hawaii

Over the past year, Faith Elarionoff was joined by her friends and family on an unforgettable journey to reforest more than 1,000 endemic Hawaiian Legacy Trees.

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The first time Faith Elarionoff visited the Hawaiian Legacy Forest on Hawai'i Island, it was pouring rain. She joined her close friend, who was preparing to move to Honolulu. They planted five koa seedlings to leave a living, growing legacy along the slopes of Mauna Kea.

"Even in the rain, with everyone soaking wet, there was this oneness in the forest," says Elarionoff, whose family has lived in Hawai'i for generations. "It is so special in the forest. There is an incredible serenity. I wanted to bring more people to plant trees."

Elarionoff is an instructor of Zumba and Tai Chi classes in Hilo. She asked nearly three dozen of her students, family, and friends to join her last year as she planted koa and sandalwood Legacy Trees. The Legacy Forest is managed by the nonprofit Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI) and is the first of its kind in the world.

"I sponsored five trees for each person who visited with me," Elarionoff says. "People were enthralled at the idea of helping this place. Everyone talked about how wonderful it felt getting their fingers in the dirt. They want to help leave a better island for future generations."

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She now has a Family Forest that encompasses more than 1,000 trees. Most of the trees are dedicated, and each one can be tracked remotely online using RFID technology specially developed by HLRI. Dozens of the trees are dedicated to Elarionoff's parents, who she describes as her "moral compass."

Through thousands of individual tree sponsorships like these and the support of businesses and organizations across Hawai'i, the growth of the Legacy Forest has exceeded all expectations," says Jeff Dunster, executive director of HLRI. "We recently started preparations for our next Hawai'i Island Legacy Forest, which will encompass more than 700 acres in North Kohala's historic Kahua Ranch."

More than 400,000 native and endemic Legacy Trees have been planted for permanent reforestation over the past seven years. HLRI has returned 1,200 acres of former pastureland above Umikoa Village to the majestic forest it once was.

The Legacy Forest is a 34-mile drive from Elarionoff's home in Hilo. During her visits, she has seen the Legacy Forest apiary, where koa Hawaiian Legacy Honey is cultivated. She's also wrapped her arms around the old-growth "Lone Koa" tree that serves as a seed source for the newly planted forest. On each trip, she spots wildlife like the rare 'io, or Hawaiian hawk, and pueo, an endangered owl endemic to Hawai'i.

"When I am in the Legacy Forest, I feel surrounded by life," she says. "Both the new life that is growing and life that has been there a very, very long time."

To sponsor a Legacy Tree, visit LegacyTrees.org. To tour the forest and plant a koa or sandalwood Legacy Tree as part of an award-winning eco-tour, visit HawaiianLegacyTours.com. Legacy Trees can also be sponsored through the purchase of unique gifts at LegacyForestGifts.com.

Joy Miyamoto