Planting It Forward

Pacific Edge Magazine


This fall, more than two dozen Hawai'i Island youth trekked up the slopes of Mauna Kea to plant hundreds of koa seedlings. They are the latest in a long line of environmental stewards who are taking part in an ongoing demonstration of social ecological responsibility. In just six years, hundreds of businesses and tens of thousands of individuals have helped plant more than 350,000 endemic koa, sandalwood and other native trees in the state's only Hawaiian Legacy Forest.

Spearheaded by the nonprofit Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative, their efforts are helping HLRI reach its goal of planting 1.3 million trees - one for each man, woman and child in the state of Hawai'i.

Several thousand feet above sea level lies a historic site that was once a pristine endemic forest and the personal property of King Kamehameha the Great. Sadly, this land was cleared nearly a century ago to make room for farming and ranching. Working together with environmentally conscious landowners and caring individuals, this special place is once again a thriving ecosystem covering nearly 1,000 acres.

Although she lives nearly 3,700 miles away in Dallas, Christine Johnson is no stranger to Hawai'i. Over the years, she has logged more than 45 trips to the islands and has driven nearly every backroad in the state. But the Legacy Forest was a new discovery for her. She learned about the reforestation project through Earl Regidor, manager of the Ka'üpülehu Cultural Center at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on Hawai'i Island, and booked a tree-planting excursion with Regidor through Hawaiian Legacy Tours.

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Christine, who had originally sponsored 100 trees, was so moved by the experience that she decided to leave a legacy of a 1,000-tree Family Forest. A week before her visit, a group of youth from the Hawai'i Parks and Recreation Program Pilikulaiwi planted many of the seedlings for Christine. Pilikulaiwi educates youth in the natural environment through exploration and recreation. "Their help in fulfilling this wonderful wish of mine allowed me to visualize the future forest," Christine says. "I thank them for doing it and hope that over the years we can all take pride in watching our trees grow."

"Pilikulaiwi, which means 'building a relationship with the homeland,' focuses on teaching students between the ages of 10 and18 years old sustainable and respectful methods to utilize and preserve Hawai'i's natural resources," says Kevin Nekoba, a program coordinator with Pilikulaiwi. "We are getting these kids into nature. They are smiling. They are chanting. You talk about koa, how it grows curly, how long it takes to grow, and you can see their minds working."

For Christine, dedicating her Legacy Trees to Hawai'i Island is a meaningful way to say thank you for the aloha she has experienced throughout her visits. "When I looked around and saw where these kids had planted the trees, that is what was in my heart," she says. "What greater gift could I give?"

Joy Miyamoto