(BIVN) – A federal proposal that could lead to South Kona becoming a National Heritage Area was recently presented to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.
Hawaiʻi Congressman Kai Kahele (D) shared a slide presentation during the June 15 legislative hearing of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, in support of the measure he introduced (H.R. 1925). The legislation would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study to assess the suitability and feasibility of designating certain land as the South Kona National Heritage Area.
“It is with great excitement that I stand before you today to showcase one of the most beautiful and precious and pristine areas in the State of Hawaiʻi,” U.S. Rep. Kahele testified. “This legislation will help preserve and protect some of Hawaiʻi’s most immaculate shorelines while enhancing economic activities connected to our visitor, coffee, macadamia, flower, and tropical food industries. Designating the area as the National Heritage Area will benefit the economy and will protect the alluring beauty of Hawaiʻi island and enhance the vibrancy of Hawaiʻi’s multicultural and national and native Hawaiian communities.”
The following is transcribed from Kahele’s testimony:
The South Kona National Heritage Area is located on the southwestern region of the island of Hawaiʻi. This unique region boasts numerous intact and significant native Hawaiian cultural sites that date to pre-western contact, 10 miles of undeveloped coastline, and intact marine and terrestrial ecosystems that support dozens of threatened and endangered plant and animal species. Many native Hawaiian residents share a strong connection to this place through generations of stewardship, cultural practices and traditions.
Along the coastline there is Honomalino Bay, Kapua Bay, Pōhue Bay and Ka Lae, otherwise known as South Point. Pōhue Bay is one of the few untouched places in Hawaiʻi. This area is home to a number of historic trails, heiau – or sacred sites and temples, petroglyphs and other cultural features, and Pōhue Bay is also a prime nesting point, an area for the endangered hawksbill sea turtle.
In the north, Honomalino, is a black sand beach and is one of the most picturesque sites on the island of Hawaiʻi…
Kahele spoke a bit about the different locations, and continued:
Ka Lae is already a registered National Historic Landmark District and is the site of one of the earliest settlements in the Hawaiian islands. Now, within this geographical area, like I mentioned earlier, are petroglyphs… these are carvings by the ancient Hawaiians that drew pictures into the rocks. There are heiau, otherwise known as ancient temples, burial sites, caves and ancient trails and house sites, and a fully preserved holua slide – or a Hawaiian sled – at Ahole near Kapua Bay.
The South Kona Wilderness Area… was proposed by the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs in the 1970s. This area was established in 2011 by the State of Hawaiʻi for the preservation of the culturally and historically rich South Kona area. Today, these lands are administered by the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources. These lands already include several of the areas that we are proposing in the national heritage area such as Honomalino Bay, Okoe and Kapua.
Traversing the South Kona National Heritage Area is the 175 mile Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. This is a trail that runs more than half of the coastline on the island of Hawaiʻi. The trail enables – and enabled in the past – the gathering of food and water and harvesting of materials and shelter, and it is literally a stone trail that goes for at least 100 miles from North Kona all the way down the South Kona. And you could walk it, right in between sharp and very rugged and barren lava fields, on the South Kona coastline.
Cultural practices are very important in Hawaiʻi, and traditions are very important, as well. I talked about the holua slide, or the lava sledding, at Kapua bay. But in Hawaiʻi, traditional and customary gathering rights and those cultural subsistence practices are codified in the Hawaiʻi State Constitution. These rights include access to the ocean to harvest the bounties of the sea.
The community sponsor for this proposed National Heritage Area – that the Department of Interior will be able to work with – is Paʻa Pono Miloliʻi. This organization was formed in 1980, over 40 years ago. It’s fully incorporated as a 501c3 in 2004, primarily for the purpose of preserving and protecting these special areas – and the culture and historical history of this area. This organization has performed federal, state, and county EIS’s, they’ve partnered with many other organizations throughout Hawaiʻi – including, at the federal level, NOAA and the Housing & Urban Development.
Community support is very important. You’re going to hear from one community organization today – the organization called the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, but it is with great joy that community voices have expressed support for the South Kona National Heritage Area – and I’m very grateful for their support – to include not just the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, but the Ala Kahakai Trail Association, the Hawaiʻi Islands Land Trust, the Lāʻiʻōpua Homestead Association, the Nature Conservancy of Hawaiʻi, the Trust for Public Land, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Further, I’m committed – I’m sure as all the members are in these proposed national heritage areas – to a fully transparent process and making sure that all local stakeholders are aware of the process. That they’re able to participate in these public hearings, that they can share their comments and that we can get to answer any of their questions.
Chair Joe Neguse, a Democrat representing Colorado, commented that it was the first time he has seen a fellow member give a slide presentation when testifying on a bill.