Guest Viewpoint for Friday — October 24, 2003

• Stewards of Koke‘e

Stewards of Koke‘e

The environmental, historical and cultural treasure of Koke‘e is fragile indeed. It is threatened on all sides, from invasive plant and animal species, deteriorating sewage, road and water systems, mismanagement, shortsightedness, apathy and greed. A critical component of the State’s current proposed “Master Plan” for Koke‘e and Waimea Canyon State Parks are the leasehold recreation-residence cabins, with the current leases expiring in 2-3 years. It has again become a divisive issue on Kaua‘i, having been misrepresented in the Legislature and media, characterizing the current cabin owners as elitist and exclusionary, pitting the “haves” against the “have-nots.”

While such a conflict is becoming all too common on Kaua‘i, it is simply not the case in Koke‘e. Right now, ALL who want to enjoy the natural splendor and recreation opportunities of this fabulous place are welcome. In addition to the dozen cabins rented out by the Koke‘e Lodge, and State Permit tent camping allowed in numerous beautiful spots, there are several church properties (Hongwanji, Methodist, 7th Day Adventist), also the Boy Scout Camp, YWCA Camp Sloggett, the Wilcox Hospital cabin, and the “Big Save” cabin, to mention a few. The privately owned cabins change owners at a healthy rate, and the extended families and friends who frequently enjoy many of these cabins number in the thousands.

For the state to now even consider “retaining” or removing many, or even one, of these privately built, owned and maintained residences at the expiration of the leases is not only clearly illegal, but also patently immoral. Attempting to remedy a trumped-up problem (lack of access), and imagining increased revenues generated by simply taking private property and reselling/renting it to the highest bidder – a plan fraught with questionable assumptions and projections – the state would destroy the very community that makes Koke‘e the treasure it is today.

The current leaseholders /homeowners are a unique community of people, families, organizations and huis, many with deep Koke‘e roots dating back several generations, all with a love and commitment to the preservation and long term health of not only their own parcels, but all of Koke‘e and Waimea Canyon Parks. Merely applying a cost-benefit approach to determine the fate of this unique and historic community is narrow-minded and void of vision. This path would also inevitably prove to be a poor financial decision by the State. Sensible stewardship and environmentalism demands that this Master Plan not only include but embrace the current leaseholders. Not to mention simply doing what’s right.

When I purchased my humble cabin about 4 years ago, it was in a shambles. I was advised to tear it down and start over. I was appalled – I love my 80-year old place and knew that all it needed was someone to care. Now it is strong, safe, warm and welcoming. And full of Koke‘e history, character and aloha. I am also the caretaker for Camp Sloggett, with very nice, cheap lodging available for over 50 people and a huge beautiful lawn for tent camping. I truly consider myself a steward of this precious ‘aina, and know many of my fellow leaseholders feel the same. Our frequent volunteer projects in the Park bear vivid testimony to this commitment. I can’t fathom why the state would want to take our cabins from any of us – without so much as a penny in compensation – in the name of “the public good”. We saw all too clearly the disastrous outcome of such a policy with the 1985 leasehold auction: the burning and removal of historic homes, neighbors and friends pitted against one another, resentment towards the state, and ultimately millions of dollars in lost revenue to the state as well. Let’s hope they don’t make the same shortsighted, misguided decision again. The current Koke‘e leaseholders deserve to be treated with respect and inclusion rather than as pariahs. We need this “Master Plan” to be sensible and caring, preserving this wonderful place, for now and future generations. Please get involved. Thank you.

Erik Coopersmith



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