Leaving Green Footprints: Hawaii

After months of running and training in the snowy cold weather of Boulder, Colorado, we were pretty ready for a change of scenery. Given that for most of the continental USA tree planting was pretty much out of the question for the cold winter months, we had decided early on to plan state #42 for January or February. I started reaching out to environmental groups in November and December and to my surprise and delight, I was immediately met with more responses than anywhere we’ve planted to far. In fact, I had found myself having to turn down a few of the offers for speaking or planting just due to time restraints, given the 8 days we would be there. So after a few weeks of planning and coordination, I ran 11 freezing miles in fresh ankle-deep snow, and 24 hours later inhaled the beautifully humid, salty warm air of the island of Maui.

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The second largest island in the volcanic chain of the Hawaiian islands, Maui is shaped roughly like a figure-eight, with forested mountains rising to about 4,000 feet above sea level on the west end and the huge 10,000 foot high Haleakala Crater dominating the west end. The middle area is mostly flat cropland, and contains most of the cities; one of the biggest industries on the island used to be the enormous sugarcane fields, which have since been shut down, the land in a strange sort of limbo until new plans are made for it. We took our first day relaxing on the beach, soaking up the wonderfully warm temperatures, and breathing the oxygen-rich sea level air. First thing the next morning we headed east, climbing 4,500 feet up the side of the Haleakala Crater to meet Joe Imhoff at Skyline Eco-Adventures. Joe has an awesome project here, using the zipline company to help fund removing invasive species that have decimated the native plant and animal life and restoring the habitats with native species.

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Unfortunately the ancient Hawaiians, upon making contact with European nations, realized they had no minerals or valuable goods to trade with, so they utilized the one commodity they had plenty of: timber. Koa wood from the native Koa trees was a highly sought-after hardwood, and after a few decades of trade, huge swathes of forests were clear cut, everything from Koa to Sandalwood to the vine-like Maile trees. This led to increased erosion of the topsoil with no root systems or tree cover to keep it in place, so to combat this, fast-growing species such as the Eucalyptus were planted. With growth rates around 14 feet per year as compared to the Koa tree’s 1 foot per year, Eucalyptus quickly dominated the landscape; due to their bitter leaves and the island’s lack of natural herbivore grazers, there was nothing to compete with or keep the tree’s growth in check. Today, only about 10-15% of Maui’s native forests are left.

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As it turns out, Joe had completed a project similar to Green Footprints just a few years ago. Wanting to travel the country and see everything it had to offer, he and his wife traveled to all 50 states, planting one tree in every state with different communities. For each tree, members of the community wrote their wishes on biodegradable slips of paper that were planted with the tree. You can read more about it, as well as watch his documentary, at plantawish.org . Joe Imhoff’s vision now that he is back on Maui is to remove some of these invasive forests and restore the native habitat, which he has already made great strides on. For most of the afternoon of our second day we worked in an acre-sized area where they had removed and mulched all the mature Eucalyptus, and had begun planting Sandalwood trees. We planted 54 Maile trees near the small Sandalwood; the faster growing Sandalwood trees will provide a sturdy scaffolding for the vine-like Maile trees to twist and anchor on as they grow. The long, narrow Maile leaves were used by the ancient Hawaiians to make the necklace for their famous Leis, and are important in many ancient traditions of the natives. It was a blast getting to talk to Joe (and to zoom around the tree canopy on Skyline Eco-Adventures ziplines!) and compare our stories and experiences of the many different states we had worked in, and to see some of the impact these kinds of projects can have on communities.

That evening we gave a presentation about Green Footprints to the Hawaii Tree Fruit Growers Association, which had been kind enough to help with a ton of the legwork for setting up our programs on the island. We met up again the next day with David and Annette, the head of the HTFG, at a local farmers market, where we loaded up with dozens of pounds of local fruits and veggies, which turned into a majority of our meals on the island. We feasted on everything from pineapples, papayas, passionfruit, starfruit, lychee, and longan fruit to guavas, chocolate sapote, bananas, jackfruit, and tons of different kinds of avocados. And lots and lots of coconuts. We even found something called an ‘ice cream bean fruit’, which looks like an enormous snap pea and contains a white fluffy meat inside with a consistency like cotton candy and a taste like vanilla ice cream.

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All loaded up with local fruits and veggies, we took of counterclockwise around the famous (and dangerous) Road to Hana. About 80 miles if you circumnavigate the whole thing, this narrow, one-lane, 2-way traffic ‘road’ has almost 600 twists and turns, 54 bridges and rides the edge of a sheer cliff into the ocean for nearly the entire way. This is the only way to get over to the east coast of the island, which for all its harrowing moments, is totally worth it. The quaint little rural town of Hana is a total departure from the typical touristy hotels and resorts in places like Kihei or Lahaina, and is framed by the rugged coast and a tropical rainforest. Just north of Hana is Kipahulu and Waianapanapa, which boast bamboo forests, spectacular waterfalls, black sand beaches, and lava caves. Our hike near Kipahulu ended up rain-soaked, but we enjoyed every second of it, especially the 400 foot Waimoku falls. Descending half a mile into the earth in a lava tube is a little disconcerting too, but I loved seeing all the different textures formed by the cooling magma on the walls and ceilings.

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We eventually made our way around the east half of the island, and to kick off our exploration of the west half, we went snorkeling between Maalaea and Lahaina. Working our way clockwise, we went cliff jumping off Black rock, swam in the stunning Olivine pools, and watched humpback whales slapping their tails off the coast. In a stroke of luck we met up with a wonderful local named Mike, who hosted us for our last few days and showed us a few gems on the island we would have never otherwise been able to experience. He took us out to ‘turtle beach’, and secluded little strip coast that, you guessed it, was full of turtles resting in the sand. So despite missing our own turtle, which obviously couldn’t make the journey across the Pacific, we got to see some real ones! On our final day all three of us hiked up the Ridge trail a little north of Wailuku; the views at the top were spectacular, the tree-covered folds of the mountains like something out of Jurassic Park. We were pretty sad leaving behind the breezy 85-degree weather and stepping out into 20 degrees and snow flurries the next morning; but stay tuned, because next month we’ll be back on the road, and our first two destinations are Nevada and California!

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