Trying to erase embarrassment

WAIMEA – “It’s embarrassing,” said Aletha Kaohi of the West Kauai Technology & Visitors Center in Waimea.

To correct this situation, Kaohi is spearheading a community effort to clean up Russian Fort Elizabeth, a popular visitor stopping point, located just outside of Waimea town.

To this end, Kaohi said the first in a series of clean-ups is scheduled for Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

This will be followed by another clean-up day on March 18, also between 8 a.m. and noon.

Kaohi explained that there will be no community clean-ups scheduled for April because the trees will cut during that month, and a final big clean-up will take place on May 6.

Currently, Kaohi explained that there are crews working at the Russian Fort, but they are addressing federal Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility concerns, not cleanup.

She said, working with Wayne Souza and the staff from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks, she would like to see some of the overgrowth and shrubs cut back, and eventually landscaped to bring back the splendor of the fort that was partially built between 1815 and 1817.

Fort Elizabeth was one of three Russian forts built on Kaua‘i. Fort Alexander and Fort Barclay were built near the mouth of the Hanalei River, while Fort Elizabeth was built on the opposite end of the island, the sites being selected for their safe anchorages in the bays and the commanding viewpoints from their location on the bluffs along the river mouths.

For the community clean-ups, Kaohi said everyone is welcome. She suggested that volunteers bring gloves and tools, “but nothing bigger than a weed eater.”

“Women are invited, too,” Kaohi said. “There’s work to be done inside the walls.”

She said that all work would be done under the supervision of Souza and the staff of the DLNR Division of State Parks, due to the historic designation of the site.

Kaohi recently spent four hours with some volunteers and Souza to do some cleaning up in the area near the fort’s gate, and despite the drizzle and rain earlier this week, their efforts were obvious.

“You can see how much difference it makes,” Kaohi said. “But, we need as many people to come out as can. You have to use gloves, and the work needs to be done tenderly.”

The Russian Fort lies within the confines of the Heritage Corridor Program that Kaohi is currently working with under a grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority through the Kauai Economic Development Board.

This revitalization program spans an area from the intersection of Kaumuali‘i Highway and Halewili Road near Brydeswood subdivision in Kalaheo, through Mana, and up to Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale, roughly a huge triangle.

Within this area are historically- and culturally-significant places that need to be known to visitors and residents, she said.

One of the highlights of the Heritage Corridor Program is the revitalization of the Russian Fort.

Other aspects include the installation of interpretative signs along several areas of significance, including the Hanapepe Valley Lookout, the Salt Pond Beach Park salt-pan area, Waimea pier, the Menehune Ditch, and the Waimea Lookout.

Kaohi noted that these will provide information to visitors stopping off at these places, noting, as an example, that at the Salt Pond Beach Park area where Hawaiian salt is made, there are no explanatory signs to be found.

In the case of the Waimea Lookout, visitors will be able to see two rivers, Waimea and Makaweli, come into one, as well as have a scenic view of the Waimea community.

With the West Kauai Technology & Visitor Center serving as the piko (center, or belly button, or central place from which all activities of the project are coordinated), Kaohi explained that she and others are looking at trying to accomplish their task by the end of summer.

The Russian Fort is the sole remnant of the three forts built by the Russians, and Kaohi said work is needed to make it worthy of its distinction as a national historical place.

Kaohi cited the need to show respect for the significance of the site to the Hawaiian people, as Pa‘ula‘ula, the compound of the ali‘i, and the pivotal role it played as a Hawaiian garrison, complete with Western weaponry, for about 30 years following the death of Kamehameha I in 1816.

The fort was dismantled in 1864 by order of leaders of the Hawaiian government, and has fallen into disrepair since that time.

Remnants of Russian Fort Elizabeth consist of the fort wall made of basalt boulders stacked over an earthen embankment, and the foundations of the buildings that once existed inside the fort wall.

The scope of the revitalization project involves clearing the area of its current overgrowth, re-doing the landscaping, designing and installing new interpretive signs in the fort, as well as publishing trail tour brochures that coincide with the interpretive posts.

Finally, Kaohi aims to form a “Friends of Pa‘ula‘ula” group that will hanai (adopt) the site.

For more information, people may call Kaohi at the West Kauai Technology & Visitors Center at 338-1332.

Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

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