Volunteers forming Koke‘e’s first work party of 2006 this Saturday

The first Koke‘e State Park Forest Work Day of 2006 is Saturday, with volunteers asked to check in at the Koke‘e Natural History Museum in the morning.

Hui o Laka members and those from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks invite volunteers to help weed and groom The Nature Trail, an 880-foot stroll that winds through the native forest between The Lodge at Koke‘e and Koke‘e Natural History Museum, and back down near the historic stone Koke‘e pavilion.

Lunch will be provided for all participants who call Koke‘e Museum at 335-9975 to register for the workday.

“There’s something for everyone to do,” said Hui o Laka Executive Director Marsha Erickson, “from chain-sawers to weed-whackers to those who want to gently garden and hand weed the lush fern beds along the trail.” Erickson regularly brings her grandchildren to forest workdays, and says it’s a great way to spend a day in Kaua‘i’s favorite mountain park with family.

Though Hui o Laka members have been maintaining and developing Koke‘e State Park’s only self-guiding interpretive walk for almost four decades, it wasn’t until late 2003 that the group members began to imagine they could remove “every weed” from the much used trail right at the edge of Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow.

“Every weed” included a well-established stand of Florida prickly blackberry over a large portion of the steep slope on the meadow side of the trail. Armed with a small grant to Hui o Laka’s Koke‘e Resources Conservation Program from Hawaii Tourism Authority leaders, for volunteer support and supervision, a “war on weeds” at The Nature Trail began, she explained in a press release.

In early March of 2004, eight stalwart volunteers armed with weed whackers attacked a veritable wall of blackberry bushes in “Round One” of the ambitious project.

According to Erickson, it was the “assault stage” on this daunting weed.

Since 2004, work at The Nature Trail has taken on a hand-gardening and landscaping imperative. While almost all major weeds have been removed, there are still some honeysuckle vines, as well as vassey grass and other ground weeds that needed to be removed by hand.

In addition, volunteers will learn Hui o Laka’s low-tech “chicken-barrier” strategy around precious fern beds and new plants.

One major issue that will also be addressed at the Saturday workday will be erosion control.

“It’s a steep site,” Erickson notes, “and we need to use all downed logs, branches and brush to slow the flow of water and create natural planting terraces on the slope.” Using aggressive, non-native trees that need to be removed anyway, volunteers will lay new log steps, as well as brace some trail edges.

Weed-whackers are needed to help refine the edge of the forest and the meadow. “It’s important that we define a natural-looking, maintainable transition between the forest and the public landscaped lawn of Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow,” according to Erickson, “because kikuyu grass, once loose in the forest, can climb all over low-hanging trees and native shrubs.” A combination of out-planting nursery-grown plants and seed dispersal is helping to bring the common native shrubs and ground-covers back to shade the newly exposed hillside on The Nature Trail.

“Folks in our community, however, are the source of the many hours of devoted gardening that will prove we can perpetuate the beauty and diversity of Kaua‘i’s upland forests,” Erickson said.

Visitors are also welcome to join the workday project. Recently, a group of five Global Volunteers from the Mainland put several days of hand-work in at The Nature Trail.

The 2004-05 project to remove non-native species from this self-guiding walk and plant appropriate native plants was funded by Hawaii Tourism Authority officials through a grant to Hui o Laka-KRCP leaders.

Hui o Laka leaders officially adopted The Nature Trail in November 2005, and will continue to engage other community members in their ongoing maintenance and development, she continued.

Throughout the process, Hui o Laka has worked directly with Kaua‘i DLNR Division of State Parks Superintendent Wayne Souza to design and implement the work.

From members of a community group’s willingness and vision to HTA officials’ timely support to the trail adoption that insures on-going maintenance, it’s a brilliant arrangement, Erickson said, expanding DLNR Division of State Parks personnel’s operational reach through visitor industry support and community volunteer involvement.

Volunteers will continue to be central to the trail-improvement projects. Call Bud or Michelle at 335-9975 if you’d like to get involved in this “people-for -the-parks” improvement adventure.

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