Waimea Valley, one of O‘ahu's last intact ahupua‘a, a land division in the Native Hawaiian land use system, that travels from the mountains to the sea, is now under the ownership and management of The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).
OHA created a new nonprofit corporation, Hi‘ipaka, to take over the valley from the previous park managers, The Audubon Society. Waimea reopened in February and is dedicated to preserving the cultural and environmental integrity of the park.
"We've been closed for two weeks doing lots of fixing up, painting and getting things working again," said Gary Gill, the executive director of Hi‘ipaka. "It's great to be open to the public and invite people back into the valley."
The valley is comprised of 1,875 acres and is host to more than 5,000 species of tropical plants as well as exotic and native animals.
"It's such an amazing habitat for plants and animals to thrive," said Lauren Goodmiller, a Waimea Valley field educator. "So it's really exciting to see native animals here."
Guests are given a map of the park, including information on the history and cultural importance of the land and the native wildlife. In addition, the park's employees host daily programs and activities.
"This is a great place to perpetuate Hawaiian culture," Gill said, adding that under Hi‘ipaka's management, its educators are striving to bring the park back to its historical and environmental roots.
The park transitioned into a tourist attraction before the recent change in management. However, Gill said that while the park is for everyone, it is no longer marketed for tourists.
"It's special especially for the local people to be able to come here and experience this valley the way it should be experienced," said field educator Daniela Checinski.
Despite the successful turnaround from Hi‘ipaka, the management of the valley relies heavily on volunteers from the community to help support its programs.
"I think the community along with the stewards, the staff, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Hi‘ipaka, Gary and everybody are all on the same page," Goodmiller said, adding that individuals from the University of Hawai‘i, including students from the environmental studies program, have also lent a hand.