Video by David Corrigan, Voice of Stephanie Salazar
MAUNA KEA, Hawaii – The sun is setting on the caretaker’s house at Mauna Kea State Park. The cabin has been Eugene Walker’s home for years.
“The majority of the time I’m up here,” Walker told us during our visit just before dark on Saturday. “I would say… almost all the time.”
But all that is about to change. There will soon be a new caretaker at the park, as the state hands over the management of the scenic recreation area to the County of Hawaii.
It’s pretty much a done deal. The Board of Land and Natural Resources has given approval to an agreement between the state and the county, as Mayor Billy Kenoi recently explained to the Hawaii County Council.
“This isnt a taking from the state,” the mayor said. “Its an opportunity for us to work closely with them. Our goal is to – on the Daniel K Inouye Highway – to have a quality rest stop that our kupuna can use, children can enjoy…”
But that leaves Eugene Walker and other state employees looking at a relocation.
“I’m hearing that I have to relocate, after 28 years, out to Kona,” Walker said.
Mayor Kenoi has been eyeing Mauna Kea for years. Fed up with what he saw as disrepair at Mauna Kea and other state parks like Hapuna, Mayor Kenoi spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign at the state legislature to have the lands transferred to the county. He was especially critical of want he saw at Mauna Kea. But this year, the mayor has been able to convince the state to let the county takeover, at least at Mauna Kea. Walker is still wondering how it happened.
“Whats the main reason,” Walker said, “because I’m in the middle of this and I don’t even know.”
Walkers opposes the management change. On Saturday, the long time caretaker took us around to see what’s kept him busy all these years. He was especially proud to show us an enclosure where he and Eagle Scouts have planted and cared for various native plants. We also asked him specifically about some of the mayor’s criticisms.
Interestingly, Governor Neil Abercrombie – only a few weeks ago – authorized the release of $350,000 for upgrades at Mauna Kea State Park.
Tomorrow, we focus on another aspect of the park’s upkeep that had taken up a lot of Walkers time over the years: Water, and how it seems to somehow figure into this whole affair.