Waioli Corporation gets $550,000 to build interactive park featuring Hawaii locomotives

LIHUE — The Waioli Corporation is one step closer to building an interactive place to teach the history of locomotives on Hawaii.

During the last legislative session, Kauai representatives were able to secure a $550,000 grant-in-aid for the corporation, which is part of Grove Farm Museum, to build a Locomotive Interactive Learning Park.

“I feel that expansion of the railroad alongside Lihue will provide a valuable cultural experience for residents, children and visitors,” said Rep. Dee Morikawa, D-16. “It could also become an alternate mode of transportation from mauka to makai along the Lihue corridor.”

The park will be built on property on Haleko Road, near the original Lihue Plantation, adjacent to the historic Lihue sugar mill.

It will boast a plantation-era community shop, restrooms, exhibits and an additional 4,000 feet of railroad.

The supplies to extend the railroad have been on hand since 2000, but there hasn’t been the funds to put it together, said Robert Schleck, museum director.

“This support from the legislators and governor really just launches the next generation of innovations,” he said.

The area will serve as a way to display oversized machinery and equipment and to restore the original water tank for the Lihue Plantation.

“As much as the history of sugar has been 150-160 years on Kauai, there really isn’t an extensive sugar history that has been documented,” Schleck said. “It was such a significant part of the history of the kingdom. This is is a perfect place to recreate and revive the history.”

The museum, which has the largest collection of operating Hawaiian steam locomotives in the world, has been giving free rides to the community on the second Thursday of every month since 1984.

It has been pursuing funds for the Locomotive Interactive Learning Park since 2013.

“It takes time to lobby and educate people about projects,” said Sen. Ron Kouchi, Senate president.

For six years, Wilcox Elementary school students and their teachers have gone to the Haleko Road stop for hands-on lessons on simple machines, said Scott Johnson, train engineer.

“Basically, we have been established as Department of Education benchmark on simple machines,” he said. “We’ve taught from preschool all the way to college level courses using the trains here.”

By creating the park, those services will be expanded, Kouchi said.

“It seemed appropriate to support them in their efforts for educational opportunities,” he said. “Learning is a lot more interesting for students.”

The first priority is to get all 4,000 feet of rail laid and start construction on the guest shop, Schleck said.

“We have to do the planning still and will work with a consultant in designing the exhibits,” he said. “It’s a lot to incorporate and there’s a lot to include.”

He hopes to have the rail laid by the end of the year.

While the money has been approved by the Legislature, it has not yet been released by Gov. David Ige.

If all goes to plan, Schleck hopes to see the site become a place for new innovation.

“The Grove Farm Museum side is pretty much established. That’s a done deal,” he said. “This has opportunities, and it’s exciting.”

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