Volunteers work to restore dry land forest

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Wyndham volunteers Gary Correia and Carol Hanna plant pohinahina behind the Palamanui Campus Tuesday morning.
  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Volunteers from Wyndham Resorts clear fountain grass behind the Palamanui campus Tuesday morning.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Kalae Wheeler pulls out fountain grass behind the Palamanui campus Tursday morning.
  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Wyndham volunteer Tyren Fukunaga takes a pickaxe to fountain grass behind the Palamanui Campus Tuesday morning.
  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Richard Stevens removes fountain grass behind the Palamanui campus Tuesday morning.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Volunteers from Wyndham Resorts clear fountain grass behind the Palamanui campus Tuesday morning.

KAILUA-KONA — Leaning against her car late last year in the parking lot of Hawaii Community College-Palamanui, Juanita Thompson looked south across the fountain grass that spread over the lava field.

Thinking of the history she learned in her classes, the pictures she’d seen, stories she’d heard and books she read, Thompson had a vision of the dry forest that once flourished throughout the region.

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“And I felt that that was my mission now,” she said, “to be part of others that have the same vision and create this dry forest again for our future.”

The dry forest, she said, expanded from just south of where the Palamanui campus now sits to Kailua-Kona, but when cattle were introduced in the area, they “pretty much destroyed the dry land forest,” especially through overgrazing.

Gradually, Thompson’s vision is coming into focus with a quarter-acre demonstration garden immediately south of the campus, where native plants are getting an opportunity to lay down roots and revitalize the land.

Armed with picks and shovels, volunteers continued that effort Tuesday, spending the morning at the location near campus clearing the area of fountain grass before making holes and putting down mulch in preparation for pohinahina to be planted. The pohinahina was selected specifically because the feral goats in the area don’t eat it, said Richard Stevens, a lecturer at the college who promotes the preservation of hundreds of acres of state-owned land to protect native plants and historic features near the campus.

Stevens said the demonstration garden is a way to observe which species do well as they return to the land, as well as how to bring the dry land forest back to the landscape.

A dozen of Tuesday’s volunteers were from Wyndham Destinations, participating as part of the company’s wish day program.

“This is their aina,” said Linda Kolstad, director of association governance for Wyndham Destinations and a champion for the company’s corporate social responsibility, sustainability and environmental efforts. “So for them to be able to work on projects that tie them to the history of their community, it’s particularly special.”

Kolstad said this was their third time working with Stevens, adding that they also worked with Stevens on clearing a mauka-to-makai trail as well as restoration efforts at Kuamoo, south of Keauhou. And while there are several volunteer opportunities available through wish days, she said, Stevens’ projects are always popular.

A number of volunteers, she added, often return to those projects on their own time, bringing their children with them to contribute to the effort to preserve native species or restore a historic battlefield.

From an industry perspective, Kolstad said, when it comes to projects like this one, it’s important “to create a sense of place.”

“So when our guests are coming to Hawaii, it’s not just to lay on a beach,” she said, “but to learn about the culture and the history and, especially on this island, the geology of the place that they’re visiting.”

Being able to take part in an effort that gives owners and guests a chance to explore and learn about the history, culture and land falls in line with Wyndham’s own philosophies.

Thompson said seeing so many people come out to take part in the restoration efforts was “like an embrace.”

“You’ve just got to create awareness, and that’s where it starts,” she said. “… When a person puts their efforts into something like this, it’s volunteer. It’s caring for the aina. It’s being a team player — all of these things that, in the end, they all feel great at the end of their day.”

Stevens said having students come into the classroom already wanting to contribute and eager to restore native landscapes is part of what makes being a teacher so exciting.

Inevitably, he said, there’s one student or a handful of students who “just catches fire” with projects like this, and it often becomes a formative experience.

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“And at the end of August, we will have a new group of people here and bring them out here,” he said, “and see who gets lit.”

Email Cameron Miculka at cmiculka@westhawaiitoday.com.

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