Since July, 2003, the National Audubon Society, the largest environmental organization in the world, has been entrusted by the people of O'ahu and the North Shore with caring for the treasures of Waimea Valley.

The document below (edited for length) was first presented in August, 2003 to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. This proposal, which OHA funded, typifies the high-level creative thinking of the Audubon chapter in Hawai'i, the care and sensitivity with which they balance the many varied priorities of this vital Hawaiian valley.

It also represents the kind of vision we all hope will continue to serve the people of the North Shore, and the many inhabitants and spirits of Waimea.

Click to find out more about the National Audubon Society.

Creating an Audubon Center
at Waimea Valley

The Audubon Experience

Research demonstrates that direct experiences in nature are the key to developing lifelong conservation values. Audubon Centers are all about getting people out into nature, and helping them create positive, lasting experiences. Programs and activities are science-based and personalized. Audubon Centers are designed to create a Culture of Conservation, building a constituency of community residents, including school children and families, who care for and protect the natural resources of their region.

Audubon Centers are places with exceptional natural, cultural, and/or historical value. They are sites of learning, conservation, and recreation. Audubon programs provide memorable experiences in these special places, fostering a passion to protect and care for them. They are safe havens, for children and families as well as plants and animals. In addition, many Audubon Centers are community assets that provide employment and attract funds to under served areas.

A Vision for an Audubon Center at Waimea Valley

Waimea Valley is a place of beauty and integrity. Audubon envisions a transition of the current operation emphasizing a high visitor volume to an experience that attracts a significantly higher number of residents, as well as a targeted sector of the visitor community interested in in-depth, high quality experiences. Our goal is to transition from a primarily entertainment-focused experience to one that emphasizes meaningful education about the Valley’s inspiring cultural and environmental assets.

We envision an Institute for Cultural Learning at Waimea, a place where residents and visitors come to study Hawaiian language, cultural traditions, and lore. We envision Waimea Valley as a conservation resource, educating young people and families about Hawaiian ecosystems, and promoting and participating in ecological restoration. We envision Waimea Valley as a leader in native flora collections, providing a bridge between ethnobotanical needs and natural resources.

As an Audubon Center, Waimea Valley will provide a unique experience where residents and visitors can immerse themselves in Hawaiian natural and cultural history

As an Audubon Center, Waimea Valley will provide a unique experience where residents and visitors can immerse themselves in Hawaiian natural and cultural history. Gardens of native vegetation will tell the story of island evolution and vulnerability. Expanded Hawaiian ethnobotanical gardens and restored/preserved living sites and agricultural terraces will provide opportunities for scholars and students to explore life in pre-contact Hawaii. Guided tours and self-guided activities will enhance educational opportunities for all audiences. Native species will gradually be restored to uncultivated portions of the Valley, creating a backdrop of ancient Hawaii, and links to restoration science. Visitors to the Valley will be invited to explore the stream throughout its reaches, walk gentle paths, hike valley trails, or picnic in a secluded spot. Both residents and visitors will be attracted to the Valley’s beauty, natural and cultural significance, education value, and recreational opportunities.

The Waimea Valley Audubon Center will be guided by a volunteer Stewardship Board. Community leaders in business, politics, conservation, and Hawaiian affairs will help to set local policy, establish a strategic plan, provide fiscal oversight, and aid in fundraising and marketing. Also assisting with the guidance of the new Center will be three Steering Committees, one each for the Botanical, Cultural, and Ecological resources. We welcome participation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in the Cultural Steering Committee and/or Stewardship Board.

About Audubon

The National Audubon Society was founded in 1905 for the purpose of conserving and restoring natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats. Our strategies for accomplishing this mission are three fold, each aspect of our strategy designed to actively engage people as part of the conservation solution.

First, we rely on sound science to guide our policy positions and to form the basis of our education programs. Citizen Science, or the process of lay people participating in data collection is a significant part of Audubon’s approach to science. Second, we utilize education as a core strategy to engage people in understanding the natural resources in their own community. Audubon Centers are our primary educational focus, engaging millions of people across the country through field-based educational experiences. The third leg of the Audubon strategy is public policy. At the local, state and national level, Audubon seeks to engage people in protecting the natural world by influencing public policy decisions.

Each of these core program areas integrates to support and enhance the other, utilizing a network of state offices as our implementation vehicle. Audubon currently has 27 state offices and a network of 80 Audubon Centers in different stages of development. Each is supported by the national organization.

Our primary vehicle for connecting people with nature is our network of community-based Audubon Centers, designed to engage children, families and adults from all walks of life in developing an understanding and appreciation of nature in their neighborhoods. Our first Center opened nearly eight decades ago on Long Island and to date has served nearly 1,000,000 children and families in that community. In South Florida, we opened the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary & Audubon Center in 1954. Corkscrew has become a major tourist destination, hosting more than 100,000 visitors from around the world. Corkscrew’s 2.5 mile boardwalk through an old growth forest allows families and school groups to explore a pristine environment, in a manner safe for humans as well as plants and animals. The Greenwich Audubon Center, founded in 1941, serves a very diverse audience ranging from low-income students in neighboring Bronx, NY, to upper-income families from the suburbs of Connecticut. The Center, which occupies two separate parcels of woodlands, ponds and forests, recently underwent a multi-million dollar facelift. One of our newest projects is the Debs Park Audubon Center in east Los Angeles. Located in a community that is 75% Latino, the programs, exhibits and curriculum for this site are culturally sensitive, appropriate to the neighborhood, and bilingual.

This is just a snapshot of the 80 or so Audubon Centers scattered across the nation, each unique to its community and ecological landscape. Looking to the future, Audubon is working from a Strategic Plan written in 1997. Included in the Plan is Audubon’s 2020 Vision, a call to increase conservation exponentially by reaching out to new communities, especially those traditionally underserved by nature centers. Our work to develop a high quality Center in Waimea Valley is one manifestation of this Vision.

Statement of Need

Waimea is one of the most culturally significant valleys on Oahu. It holds a unique botanicbotanic collection, and may represent the last intact ahupua’a on the island. These resources have been threatened by inappropriate and insensitive activities time and again. Protecting and interpreting these resources is the challenge that faces our community. Audubon has stepped up, with a great deal of diverse community support, to take on this stewardship challenge.

To be successful, every Audubon Center must be responsive to, and reflective of the community it serves. Community interest in Waimea Valley is deeply rooted. Hundreds of area residents have contributed thousands of volunteer hours toward shaping a vision for the Valley. Individuals with a strong interest in Hawaiian cultural issues served on the City’s Waimea Falls Park Advisory Committee in 2000 and 2001, particularly on the Cultural, Historical, and Educational Subcommittee. Their recommendations were the basis of the City’s Proposed Master Plan for Waimea Valley. Many individuals and organizations voiced their support of the Subcommittee’s recommendations, including the Royal Order of Kamehameha I and the Waialua, Wahiawa, Ali’i Pauahi, Ko’olauloa and Lanihuli Hawaiian Civic Clubs.

Audubon’s vision is aligned with many of the projects and program ideas proposed in the community plan. The Cultural, Historical and Educational subcommittee’s recommendations and broad objectives are listed here, unedited:

  • Protect the authenticity and identify of Waimea Valley through the Hawaiian cultural practice of pono (correct action without self-righteousness).
  • Promote an atmosphere of respect and a Hawaiian sense of place within Waimea Valley for what was, what is, and what will be through culturally-sensitive programs and activities.
  • Develop and maintain a prototype “Waimea Valley Educational Program” and curriculum that exhibit sensitivity and hoihi (respect) and that celebrate traditional Hawaiian culture.
  • Maintain a professional staff to preserve and perpetuate botanical collections and historical sites.
  • Encourage, educate, and mentor volunteers.
  • Network with supportive organizations.

Specific ideas and recommendations, which are too numerous to list here, include:

  • Bring back the Makahiki Festival and the Ceremony at Hale o Lono.
  • Restore and maintain the kauhale kahiko, Hale o Lono and other historic sites.
  • Promote the use of the Hawaiian language.
  • Establish the “Council for the Guardianship of Waimea Ahupua’a” as an advisory body.
  • Turn Waimea into a cultural university.

The community has put out the call for culturally-appropriate stewardship of Waimea Valley. The National Audubon Society has stepped up to respond to this call, but we cannot do it alone. While many in the community and nation will step forward to assist with the overall endeavor, it is our sincere hope the Office of Hawaiian Affairs will demonstrate leadership in supporting Hawaiian cultural resources and interpretation.

In the pages that follow, we will describe some of the specific programs, positions, and projects that we would like initiate at Waimea Valley. For the most part, they do not include areas where cultural objectives cross over with botanical interests (such as native Hawaiian or ethnobotanical gardens), but focus very specifically in areas of primary cultural concern. We have indicated how each of these projects and programs supports specific goals articulated in OHA’s strategic plan. As requested, we have also included two budgets: Our initial request (A), and another version (B) that omits allowance for staff benefits.

Project Overview

Our proposal to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs includes a three-pronged approach tofor bringing about a fundamental shift in the way Waimea Valley is managed. The first, Building a Foundation of Knowledge, sets the stage for future endeavors by gathering together the cultural and archaeological history of the site. A clear understanding of what went before is essential to our educational activities, and to charting a clear course of where we want to go.

The second prong, Establishing a Place of Learning, is designed to firmly establish Waimea as a place of lifelong learning. A wide array of ongoing educational opportunities will be available for staff, volunteers, community residents, and visitors.

We will draw upon the extraordinary cultural, botanical and ecological resources of Waimea Valley to create an open-air university.

We will draw upon the extraordinary cultural, botanical and ecological resources of Waimea Valley to create an open-air university; a learning environment that welcomes all walks of life, while demanding site appropriate behavior and respect for the resources.

The third and final prong of our proposal, Changing the Public Perception, is one that’s importance we have only recently come to appreciate. For over a year, we have spoken at great length with the City and targeted sectors of the community about our vision for Waimea Valley. But as we take on stewardship of the site, it has become clear that many in the broader community do not fully understand what we aim to do. Shifting public perceptions and deep-seated expectations of a tourist attraction will take a concerted effort. Toward this end, we would like to invest in multiple marketing and public relations efforts, including a series of special events that will draw in the many residents who long ago may have dismissed Waimea Valley as just another tourist attraction.

Projects and Programs

1. Building a Foundation of Knowledge

Before we can begin to care for the historic cultural treasures of Waimea Valley, we must know what they are. Towards this end, we would like to commission both an archaeological and cultural assessment of the Valley. Once this is accomplished, we would like to embark on a program of “public archaeology,” involving the community, under the supervision of a trained archaeologist, in the study, interpretation, and protection of select archaeological sites

Waimea Valley is widely regarded in the Hawaiian community as being a very special place. It served as a home of priests and a spiritual center from about the 12th century until the demise of the kapu system after the death of Kamehameha I in 1819. At that time, Waimea Valley belonged to Kamehameha’s kahuna nui, Hewahewa, a direct descendant of Pa’au. Hewahewa died in 1837 and is buried near the entrance of the Valley.

Bishop Museum surveyed the lower portion of Waimea Valley in 1974. In their report, they described 32 archaeological sites, including numerous agricultural complexes, walls, mounds, and burials. Other sites have been uncovered in the intervening 30 years, primarily by former Waimea Falls Park Historian, Uncle Rudy Mitchell. Among the sites noted in the Bishop Museum report as being ideal for further study and public interpretation was a site identified as D7-16, Dry-Agricultural Complex, which stretches about 205 meters along the entrance to the north valley. A short excerpt about this site follows:

“It averages 50 meters in width and is composed of a series of semicircular enclosure walls, agricultural mounds, and a possible house site, that are in fair-to-good condition. These features indicate intensive use of this area for the growing of dry-land crops such as sweet potato and dry taro, bananas, and sugarcane.”

We believe this site, currently covered in vegetation and barely recognizable, might be an ideal location to conduct a “public archaeology” project. However, we need to have the professional archaeologists revisit it first.

There have been enormous advances in archaeological techniques and interpretation in the past 30 years. We would like to commission a new study, building on the work done in 1974, to revisit earlier sites and address new ones. If feasible, we would like to extend this study to include areas not considered in the earlier study. Finally, we would like to get professional recommendations on the best way to protect and preserve the achaeological sites of the past.

Developing a firmer understanding of the cultural history specific to Waimea Valley will be an essential step in developing appropriate educational and interpretive programs and products.

The second piece of this project is a Cultural Assessment following guidelines produced by the state’s Office of Environmental Quality Control. An assessment of cultural impacts gathers information about cultural practices and cultural features, and promotes responsible decision making. Cultural assessments involve gathering historic and oral data about the cultural history of a site.

We believe that developing a firmer understanding of the cultural history specific to Waimea Valley will be an essential step in developing appropriate educational and interpretive programs and products. Moreover, the state recommends that cultural assessments be included in Environmental Impact Statements, something we will ultimately need when we undertake improvements to the site. Information about the scope of cultural assessments, as taken from the OEQC website, is included as an attachment to this proposal.

The third portion of this project is the “public archaeology” component, to commence in Year 2, after the formal archaeological survey has been completed. This is an idea that is gaining acceptance in archaeological circles as a way to engage the public, educate participants, and accomplish more than limited research budgets allow. It involves staffing a study site with a professional archaeologist(s), and supervising the work of regular community volunteers, casual visitors, and school groups from middle school to post-graduate classes. It has been practiced very successfully across the world, including, through pre-arranged classes, here in Hawaii.
OHA’s Strategic Plan.

Community members, volunteers and members of Hawaiian families who are the original inhabitants of the Valley come to an early-morning re-dedication ceremony on June 26, 2003. This occasion marked the assumption by the National Audubon Society of primary responsibility for stewardship of the land.

These three projects directly support OHA’s Strategic Plan Goal 2, Culture. Part of the intent of the goal is to “…put into practice steps that will protect, re-establish and enhance Hawaiian cultural assets…”. A portion the OHA need statement notes that sacred sites are being displaced, and ancient practices are no longer known or documented. At least, in Waimea Valley, we would like to take steps to ensure that this does not happen. The assessments and archaeological projects we are requesting funding for represent the first step towards protecting and re-establishing important Hawaiian cultural assets.

2. Establishing a Place of Learning

One of Audubon’s primary interests in establishing Centers across the country is to engage communities in meaningful ways, and draw them into experiences that help them learn more about, and become motivated to care for the special places in their neighborhoods. Waimea Valley presents the added opportunity for imparting the Hawaiian system of land management and stewardship within an actual ahupua’a (when combined with the adjacent Waimea Bay). The natural and cultural resources of the site provide a rich foundation for teaching and learning at all levels, one that cannot be duplicated in a traditional classroom setting.

One of our highest priorities towards establishing Waimea Valley as a place of learning is the establishment of a Cultural Learning Institute (CLI) at Waimea. We hope to capitalize on Waimea Valley’s strong cultural appeal as a way to attract members of the community who are often underserved in traditional education venues. We envision the Cultural Learning Institute as a loosely-structured collection of organized workshops and classes that target the local community. One staff position will be dedicated to recruiting instructors, attracting and enrolling participants, facilitating workshops and classes, and evaluating the program on a regular basis. Whenever possible and appropriate, classes will be field-based, taking full advantage of the rich resources of the site.

The types of classes organized through the CLI will vary tremendously, from for-credit serious academic subjects, to non-credit topics of personal interest. Subjects may include Hawaiian language, history, art, music, dance, horticulture, agriculture, plant propagation, story telling, lei-making, etc. The Institute will also provide a forum to discuss and debate issues of high relevance to Hawaiians, such as self-governance, leadership training, ceded-lands, or Federal recognition. The possibilities are endless. We recognize without an appropriate educational venue on the North Shore, people must often drive to town to take take classes or attend meetings, a barrier that effectively excludes many people.

It is our intent to partner with existing organizations, to the extent reasonable, to reduce costs, avoid duplication of effort, and strengthen the quality of the programs we offer. Groups and organizations we would like to explore working with include BYU-Hawaii; UH Center for Hawaiian Studies, Leeward Community College, Alu Like, Papa Ola Lokahi, Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center, Na Pua Noeau, Kamehameha Schools, the Department of Education, and others.

In the first year, we will work to develop these relationships, create sound programs, and establish good operational systems. It is our intent to charge a nominal fee for most programs and classes, in order to pay the instructors for their time and expertise. We might also develop a system of trade for service, in which individuals with expertise in one area could trade teaching duties for enrollment in other classes. There would be no charge for attending forums, in which speakers representing various points of view on issues of relevance to the Hawaiian Community might be invited to present their ideas.

We have used the term “Cultural Learning Institute” to describe the type of educational structure we want to create. We are not wedded to the name, and welcome suggestions of something that may be more appropriate for Waimea. Our ideas for a Cultural Learning Institute are explained in greater depth on pages 27-28 of our proposal to the City, attached.

A second component toward establishing Waimea Valley as a place of learning will be to provide regular opportunities for staff and volunteer training, particularly in areas relating to the Hawaiian natural and cultural history of the Valley. We will approach this in many ways. First, we will establish a tradition of “brown bag lunches,” in which staff and volunteers are invited to enjoy their lunch while listening to a guest speaker. We are seeking nominal funds to provide honoraria for guest speakers. This is a relatively inexpensive way to provide enrichment opportunities, and creates an institutional culture that encourages sharing ideas and information on a regular basis.

In addition, we will develop training modules for staff and volunteers who have direct contact with the public. This will include not only those involved in interpretation, but also sales associates, admissions attendants, and gardeners, who are often the first people visitors see, and who are inevitably asked many questions.

We will draw from those with expertise in many different areas to provide an in-depth understanding of Waimea’s important cultural history and features, its world-class botanic collections, and the unique ecology of Hawaii in general and Waimea in particular. The training modules will probably include on-site interpretive tours, reading material, and short classes. Those involved directly in interpretation may be asked to demonstrate their thorough knowledge of a topic before sharing information with others. This module will be designed so that some type of training is occurring on a regular basis, allowing new staff or volunteers to “jump in” at any point. The budget for training includes honoraria for kupuna and other speakers who will share their expertise and knowledge of the area.

Finally, we are seeking funds to develop self-guided interpretive programs and materials, to extend our reach beyond what a limited interpretive staff can accomplish. Interpretive programs will be designed for families, teens, and adults, and address a wide variety of topics. Ideally, they will vary in length, location, and complexity. It is our intent that they are imaginative and fun, leading participants to discover for themselves the joy of exploration and learning. They will encourage and incorporate a range of core educational skills and subject areas, including reading, math, reasoning, art, investigation, and other skills. Ultimately, we may want to work “rewards” into successful completion of self-guided programs, especially for children and teens. These could be inexpensive treasures, discounts for shave ice or other goodies, or passes for a return visit.

In the future we will build upon the base of the self-guided interpretive materials, to establish a host of educational programs designed specifically for school age children. This will promote an opportunity to partner with cultural charter schools, Hawaiian language immersion classes, and children with special needs.

OHA’s Strategic Plan:

Our efforts to establish Waimea Valley as a place of learning supports many of the goals outlined in OHA’s strategic plan. The classes and workshops, particularly through the Cultural Learning Institute, will support OHA’s cultural goals to safeguard Hawaiian traditions and practices.

All of the programs support OHA’s broad goals for education. In particular, we know from years of research and experience that children who often have trouble in school thrive on non-competitive, interactive, hands-on, outdoor programs. For children of Hawaiian ancestry, who are disproportionately represented as special needs students, providing relevant and fun educational experiences is especially important. Finally, the self-guided programs we develop will be designed to engage reluctant readers, who may be challenged to solve a riddle, or find a special stone. Successful reading becomes its own reward, and research shows that utilizing the natural environment to teach core subject areas increases attendance, and improves grades and test scores.

Finally, all three elements described will support Goal No. 5, concerning the environment and natural resources. The outcome articulated for the first strategy, to protect and preserve our natural resources and environment, is an outcome Audubon is committed to achieving as well. It is our belief that providing hands on opportunities to learn about the natural world, in the natural world, is an invaluable component of long-term environmental stewardship.

3. Changing the Public Perception

Some members of the resident community have been involved in the evolution of Waimea Valley for years, and are committed to establishing a new vision for this special place. These leaders want to see Waimea as a place for residents, not just visitors. There are many more, however, that seem to expect that it will be business as usual, with a different operator. Audubon’s mission is one of stewardship and education, not profit. To succeed, we need to shatter the old perceptions of Waimea as only a tourist destination as quickly and effectively as possible. One way we may do this is through the presentation of special events that specifically target residents, and bring them into the Valley to see for themselves the changes that are transpiring.

Audubon’s mission is one of stewardship and education, not profit.

We have developed a very preliminary list of the types of special events we would like to offer in Waimea. We will need to consult with our steering committees before locking down events or dates, but it is our intent to host a range of events designed to attract a variety of segments of the resident population (Hawaiians, families, kupuna, teens, artisans, farmers, etc.). The first of these events will be a Makahiki celebration, complete with an evening ceremony at the Hale o Lono Heiau. This is a specific request we have heard many times from the Hawaiian community. We may also incorporate a ceremony into the celebration to thank the many people who have come together to create this new vision for the Valley. Each special event will attract large numbers of people, and provide us with an opportunity to publicly acknowledge the contributions of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. These large public events can also serve as an ideal venue to provide Hawaiian Registry Services, encouraging all people of Hawaiian ancestry to be documented.

Our goal here is to establish a tradition of public involvement at Waimea through annual events that encourage return visitation to the Valley. In addition to the re-establishment of the Makahiki Festival, we are exploring a keiki ukulele festival, a keiki-kupuna hula festival, special lei making events, and many other possible special events ideas. OHA’s support will help to initiate and develop three to four annual events which we believe can be supported by admissions and corporate sponsors in future years.

A particularly important target audience for special events may be the Hawaiian community at large. A subsection of this group, the Oahu Council of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, has been quick to express their interest in Waimea Valley, and has planned a meeting in the Valley for July 19th, less than a month since Audubon assumed management. We believe there are many more members of the Hawaiian community who would like to once again become a part of this Valley. Special events that include activities relevant to the broader Hawaiian community, such as Hawaiian registry services, may serve a dual purpose of bringing Hawaiians into the Valley, while strengthening an understanding of the Hawaiian culture, and supporting the re-establishment of Waimea as place for local residents.

In addition to the many special events, we will need to develop marketing materials to clearly communicate the changes that have occurred and will occur in Waimea. This will be especially important for the visitor industry, which has come to expect a certain experience. We want to be sure that visitors are not looking for a pampered theme park experience, but arrive with an appropriate sense of respect and anticipation as they enter Waimea Valley.

OHA’s Strategic Plan:

Our objective of changing public perceptions of Waimea Valley is a fundamental step towards establishing a sense of place. Having a clear sense of place, in turn, will help us to protect our Hawaiian traditions (Culture) and care for the land that sustains us (Environment-Natural History). Special Events can be designed to support these goals individually (keiki hula festival, for example) or collectively (Hawaiian farm fair, featuring traditional agricultural techniques). Public relations and marketing tools will help ensure that visitors arrive at Waimea prepared to learn, and leave with a greater understanding and respect for the accomplishments of the Hawaiian people, and the challenges that lay before us in modern times.

The National Audubon Society is committed to being a good steward of Waimea Valley, and to providing as much quality interpretation and educational opportunities as funding allows. Towards this end, we are seeking support (financial, in-kind, volunteer, etc.) from a very wide of sources. The David and Lucille Packard Foundation has already contributed $1 million towards the Waimea Valley Audubon Center. We have begun to actively seek additional funds, both nationally and locally, to allow us to broaden our reach and accelerate restoration efforts. Other potential sources of financial support include the EPA and USFWS, the U.S. Army, the Hawaii Tourism Authority, private local and national foundations, and individual donors. While the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is by no means the only agency from which we are seeking funding, it is our belief that a solid demonstration of support from OHA for the cultural programs demonstrates the value and importance for other funding agencies to support our efforts.