Hawaiʻi grant will provide funds for safer hiking, birding and ecosystem conservation
Kauaʻi’s trail system will receive a huge boost in 2020 with the award of a major Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority grant to the Kauaʻi branch of the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife. The ‘Aloha Aina’ grant will provide $118,000 to repair degraded sections of the Pihea-Alakaʻi trail system.
This historic trail starts in Kōkeʻe, runs through the Alakaʻi Swamp and ends at the Kilohana Vista, with spectacular views of Hanalei Bay. It is one of the most heavily used trails on the island. The original boardwalk was built in 1990 to protect the pristine ecosystem of the Alakaʻi Swamp Wilderness Preserve and to prevent hikers from getting lost. Due to the extreme weather conditions (nearby Mount Waiʻeleʻele is one of the wettest places on earth), the wooden boardwalk deteriorated over time. A replacement project using robust ‘Trex’ boardwalk planks was initiated in 2016 but funding constraints meant that it was only partially completed.
Bogs, Plants and Birds
The Alakaʻi is one of only three accessible bog habitats in the state of Hawaiʻi and this trail offers a unique opportunity to see Kauaʻi’s native plants and forest birds. That includes the carnivorous mikinalo plant, an unusual sundew which traps insects with its sticky tentacles and then digests them. ʻApapane, ʻIʻiwi, Kauai ʻAmakihi, ʻAnianiau and even the highly endangered ʻAkekeʻe are also seen here.
The trail has been in existence for centuries and is still beloved today. It was made famous by the landmark visit in 1871 of Queen Emma and her entourage of over 100 people, including hula dancers and musicians who captured the occasion through traditional Hawaiian mele (chants). This visit is commemorated annually at the Emmalani Festival at Kōkeʻe State Park.
Since the construction of the boardwalk more than 25 years ago, thousands of visitors and residents have enjoyed a safer, more accessible hike through this complex landscape. The fragile ecosystem benefitted tremendously as well. In the past, hikers had a difficult time getting through the mud and would create paths that were up to 50 feet wide in some areas. This damaged the native plant life. With the boardwalk in place, much of the plant life has been restored. However, as the boardwalk deteriorated, the patterns of damage to the trail, as well as unsafe conditions for hikers, became an issue again. This project will resolve the problem.
The grant funds will also provide for interpretive signage at the Puʻu ʻO Kila lookout, the main trailhead entrance for the Pihea/Alakaʻi trail system. The signs will include a map of the Pihea-Alakaʻi trail system and information on the history of the trail and its significance to Queen Emma. Hikers will also learn about the unique ecosystem in Kōkeʻe, including its native plants, forest birds and seabirds.
Submitted by Helen Raine, Pacific Birds Conservation Specialist.