LIHUE — The steam locomotive ride offered through Grove Farm museum is relatively short, at about 2,000 feet of track.
But it is the only authentic sugar plantation steam train experience in the state that offers a quick trip into the past.
Representatives with Waioli Mission House and Grove Farm Historic Properties want to make that ride longer.
Officials want to complete the mile-long section of the original Lihue Plantation right of way adjacent to the historic Lihue sugar mill that they acquired in 1999.
Director Robert Schleck said they submitted a grant-in aid application to the Legislature for $837,000. The funds would go toward finishing the track and adding several history-based, authentic structures.
“We want to establish an exhibit that really speaks to the whole history of sugar operations on Hawaii,” he said. “We want to develop this interactive learning park.”
Curator Moises Madayag said the exhibit that would be built along the extended train tracks would include a main office, gift shop and restroom; an A-frame shed and another building to display older equipment; a switchman’s quarters, which would be a small structure with multimedia presentations and old photos for people to view while waiting for the train; and a water tower.
“We want to preserve our past, authentically,” he said.
It would also provide a way to connect the present to the past. With the speed of today’s world on the Internet and social media, history sometimes falls to the wayside. The influence of the sugar plantation, a key part of Kauai’s history, are remembered by fewer and fewer people.
An important part of the project would be that people could see, touch, smell and feel the past. Grandparents and parents can bring children and explain how things used to be on Kauai.
“We kind of forget who are,” Madayag said. “There’s a slight dehumanization. What we’re trying to do, we’re trying to save ourselves from that.”
Sen. Ron Kouchi said the Legislature receives far more funding requests than the estimated $20 million it will have to distribute.
He said he has visited the Grove Farm historic property and talked to its representatives about the request. He said it’s unlikely this funding request would be approved.
“I told them the difficulty is, given the limitations we have, they’re asking for a good amount of money,” he said.
Kouchi also pointed out that many agencies and organizations make the same requests for funds each year for several years before gaining support.
“Many go through the chute a few times and work their way to the top,” Kouchi said.
Rep. Dee Morikawa said she heard there were over 230 organizations requesting grant-in-aids which could total over $700 million.
“It will be a tough decision to pick and choose which proposals will get funded,” she wrote.
Morikawa supports the Grove Farm request.
“I support this project because I want initiatives that will protect cultural history for future generations,” she wrote. “This railway is a great educational adventure for children, residents and visitors. The extended railway and improvements will enhance the current experience and may set a precedence for many other potential similar projects islandwide or statewide. It may, in the far future, provide another mode of transportation through town.”
The historic, 100-acre homestead in Lihue developed and owned by the Wilcox family includes the original plantation main house, owner’s cottage, guest cottage, old office, as well as other resident and plantation workers’ housing camp.
It was Mabel Wilcox who at age 92 announced plans for the preservation of Grove Farm as an historic site museum representing a developing sugar plantation. Public programs provide schools, community and visitors with historic perspectives for present and future generations.
“She left all of this to the community of Kauai,” Schleck said.
Grove Farm Museum provides free rides on restored steam locomotives at a monthly “fire-up” that began operating out of the Grove Farm Company’s Puhi roundhouse.
The initial effort to extend the track a mile had to be cut short when the economy faltered.
“We have put in about $2 million into this development up to this point, and we need help,” Schleck said.
“Maybe this is our SOS,” Madayag said.
The pair visited with legislators to lobby for their project.
“I can see that they really, really wanted to help us,” Schleck said. “But they explained there was only so much that could go around the state of Hawaii.”
But he and Madayag have not lost hope and are encouraging the community to let their legislators know they support funding of the project.
“Don’t forget Kauai. Don’t forget Grove Farm,” Madayag said “Don’t forget the gift that was given back to the community. It needs to be taken care of.”