Kahana: What Was, What Is, What Can Be



The State acquired the ahupua`a `o Kahana in 1969 from the estate of Mary Foster and six individual lessees. The State was prompted to do so by a 1965 report that portrayed Kahana as a blank slate to be developed in a highly commercial way, including 1,000 camping sites, hotel, cabins, restaurant, a botanical garden, a man-made lake, and shops. An additional factor supporting state acquisition was that it was one of the few, if not the only, ahupua`a left under virtually sole ownership and in a relatively pristine state.

The families living in Kahana at that time had long-standing ties to the valley, and lobbied the Legislature to allow them to stay in the park and preserve their lifestyle. In 1970, a Governor's Task Force proposed the concept of a "living park," which would allow the residents to remain on the land and be a part of the park.

To permit the Kahana residents to remain in the park, the State devised a scheme in which the lessee families would earn the right to a 65-year lease in the park by providing 25 hours of interpretive services per month to the park to preserve, restore, and share Kahana's history and rural lifestyle with the public.

The State paid for a number of master plans for Kahana. Taking their tone from the original report, these were extremely ambitious and expensive, and would have involved removing the remaining families still living in Kahana. The community and the legislature rejected these plans. The Kahana residents proposed more modest plans that focused on the rural culture of the ahupua`a, but these were not accepted by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The Bureau contacted twenty-four state, federal, and county agencies about their jurisdiction over or involvement with Kahana. The agencies fell into three categories: some of the agencies had no involvement in Kahana; some had regulatory powers over proposed changes to the ahupua`a but otherwise were not involved; and others had active jurisdiction over a portion of Kahana and could generate their own projects within their limited jurisdiction. It was agreed that the agency with primary jurisdiction is the Department of Land and Natural Resources' State Parks Division.

Two management structures were examined. The first is one in which the management entity has control over the entity, similar to the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission. In the other model, each government agency retains its current jurisdiction and the management entity serves as a coordinator between the agencies and as an ombudsman between the lessees and the agencies.

However, discussion of the format of a management agency, whether the control or the coordinator model, and which specific entity should be that manager, is premature at this time as there is a crucial but missing element which must be done first: Kahana must have a master plan.

A management entity will not be able to function efficiently and effectively, or be evaluated appropriately, without a master plan. A master plan for Kahana, co-authored by the Kahana lessees, is urgently needed before a change in management should be made. If an entire master plan is not financially feasible at this time, a specific phased plan could be started immediately to deal with the three most-pressing issues relating to Kahana. The first is community-building between the lessees, and between the lessees as a group and State Parks to address the friction that is blocking full participation by every involved person in making the ahupua`a `o Kahana a true living park. The second is a specific plan to address interpretive service and lease issues; and the third is development of a full set of goals for Kahana to use in directing interpretive service hours and in seeking assistance from other governmental agencies.

Funding for a plan for Kahana, whether it be a full master plan or a more focused phased plan, should be among the Department of Land and Natural Resources' top priorities. However, a plan for Kahana will only be effective if the lessees, who are required to be the main source of staffing via their interpretive services, are co-architects of the plan.

Until a master plan is in place, deciding who the management entity should be, or the scope of its powers, is premature.


Anticipated Questions

Q: What about Kahana makes it different from other state parks?

A: Kahana differs from all other state parks as it is an intact ahupua`a the basic ancient Hawaiian land division and can demonstrate all of the resources mountain, upland, shoreline, and ocean that the ancient Hawaiians used for survival. Kahana is also unique in its "living park" arrangement with lessees whose ancestors have lived on the land and who can serve as the stewards of the land and interpreters of Kahana's rural culture.

Q: Why should funding its master plan be a priority?

A: The State took full possession of Kahana in 1969 and attempted several master plans in the ensuing decades. All the plans were rejected as they were too grandiose. Meanwhile, the kūpuna of Kahana, who suggested more modest but ignored plans that would have restored and displayed the traditional nature and culture of Kahana, are passing away. Also, the relationship between the lessees and State Parks has suffered due to the long delay in devising a master plan. Action is needed now to utilize the wisdom of the remaining kūpuna, support those lessees who are striving to restore Kahana, and encourage those who need guidance and motivation.