Proposed trail would offer rare walk through palila habitat

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A new trail the state plans to open later this year will offer hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts an up-close look at Hawaii’s dryland forests, home to the rare Hawaiian honeycreeper ­— the palila.

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A new trail the state plans to open later this year will offer hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts an up-close look at Hawaii’s dryland forests, home to the rare Hawaiian honeycreeper ­— the palila.

The planned 0.92-mile loop will meander through mamane and naio trees on the western slope of Mauna Kea.

The Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project says the high-elevation forest is mostly intact but additional plantings are planned. The Palila Forest Discovery Trail, which could open as early as June, would be accessed through an existing dirt road, mostly used by hunters.

Kiosks will provide information on the importance of dryland forests, devastated after centuries of animal grazing.

Jackson Bauer, project outreach coordinator, said education is the main reason for the trail, noting hikers also will be able to use their smartphones to access more information.

“Unfortunately, there is no intact forest anywhere in Hawaii,” he said. “There are no dryland ecosystems left.”

The restoration project, which operates under the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, is tasked with changing that.

Its efforts include fencing forested areas to keep out ungulates and planting new trees, on which the endangered palila rely.

The native bird, whose historical range included upland forests on Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai, is predominately found on the southwest slope of Mauna Kea.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity for the public to see a piece of Hawaii that’s seldom seen,” Bauer said of the forests, “and it’s something that’s truly special and worth protecting.”

The trail will be built by volunteers and cost about $170,255, according to a draft environmental assessment. That includes $20,000 in state funds and about $120,000 in donations. The rest is the estimated value of the volunteer labor.

The document can be viewed by visiting tinyurl.com/palilatrail.

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For more information about the restoration project, visit dlnr.hawaii.gov/restoremaunakea.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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