Community tries to decide how to save gardens

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The planned closure of a well-known garden prompted a group of residents to gather Saturday to see if they could identify a way to keep the iconic Captain Cook site open.

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The planned closure of a well-known garden prompted a group of residents to gather Saturday to see if they could identify a way to keep the iconic Captain Cook site open.

Around 30 people attended the meeting at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, the 15-acre educational and cultural cornerstone that’s set to close Jan. 31 as Bishop Museum looks for a new owner/steward for the land as well as hundreds of acres in Waipio.

The group included family of the garden’s namesake, who left the land upon her death in 1974 to Bishop Museum.

“I grew up with Aunt Amy talking about the garden,” said Meg Greenwell, of the Greenwell family, to the 30 people in attendance. “This is her vision.”

The Bishop Museum has said the sale, which includes 547 acres in Waipio, more than half the valley, will allow them to focus on their responsibilities as a museum, rather than acting as a landholder.

Together, the land value was estimated around $10 million a few years ago.

The sale is a way for the museum to fill a debt of at least $8 million, according to Rose Schiltz, a former director of the garden who made the trip over from Oahu to speak. She added that Amy Greenwell always seemed to be present as they continued the work she’d started.

News of the sale left scores of people in the community upset, but Saturday’s gathering focused on what could be done to keep the garden going.

Schiltz detailed the deeds underpinning the garden and some of their legal limits. She cautioned that she’s a property lawyer and residents were likely to need one if they wanted to pursue local control.

Schiltz said her research showed there were two grants from Amy Greenwell’s property that make up the core of the garden. Both include requirements that they be maintained for ethnobotanical purposes.

Another protects a heiau and has architectural protections. In December 1999, Kealakekua Ranch added a parcel to provide land for the visitor’s center. Its deed has more flexibility and could be used for educational nonprofits.

All that leaned toward a plan to assume local control of the garden.

“We can make like Aunt Amy wanted,” Meg Greenwell said.

Jill Olson, who helped form the Kona Historical Society 40 years ago and served as chief executive for much of that time, said it would take determination, but it could be done. The key, she said, was a group willing to come together and work toward a common vision, the way KHS came to be.

“It took awhile, but it came together,” she said.

She advocated that the local community form a nonprofit to run the gardens.

“Do what’s right for this place and for you,” she said.

Located just north of Manago Hotel, the botanical garden, which focuses on the study of Hawaiian people and their plants, is home to more than 200 species of plants that grew in the traditional farms and native forests of Kona prior to the late 18th century and the arrival of Capt. James Cook.

Bishop Museum President and CEO Blair Collis said recently that following the closure the museum will continue to maintain the property while looking for the next steward. He said that a sale wasn’t pending. He couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday and a message left to Stryker Weiner &Yakota, the PR firm that issued Bishop’s last statement on the sale, wasn’t returned.

Kealakekua Ranch Chief Operating Officer Rhonda Kavanagh, who represents the Greenwell family, also couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday.

But a number of grant programs are available for nonprofits, Olson said at the meeting that would help to ensure the transfer of the area should they go that route.

She also suggested a number of grant programs that could provide the money to pay for the property.

A level of frustration bubbled beneath the surface of what many people see as a passionate topic, with several people expressing frustration about how the museum has gone about trying to sell the property that was given to them.

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Still, the focus on the positive seemed to win out, often with some effort.

“Everybody is emotionally ripped to shreds,” Meg Greenwell said.

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