In the history of environmentalism, there are few more important names than John Muir. A naturalist and author, he also founded the Sierra Club. Though born in the United Kingdom back in 1838, Muir’s legacy stretches all the way to Maui. This week, to honor his 176th birthday, the Sierra Club’s local chapter will hold a little party celebrating him in Spreckelsville on Tuesday, Apr. 22. That’s not actually Muir’s birthday (which is on Apr. 21), but it’s close enough.
The occasion is partly to talk about Muir, of course–they’ll show a short film on him–as well as serve cake and ice cream. But mostly, the party is all about publicizing the Sierra Club Maui’s new plan to radically expand Baldwin Beach Park–a plan that a recent real estate proposal from Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa may help bring about.
“For years, many citizens have advocated for a North Shore regional park,” said Lucienne de Naie, vice chair of Sierra Club Hawaii. “Everyone uses Baldwin Beach Park, but most people probably don’t know that except for the part by the basketball court and the live kiln–which the county recently bought–everything is still privately owned.”
According to the Sierra Club, the whole Baldwin Beach area holds great historical, cultural and environmental importance. It’s critical habitat for Monk seals. There are burial sites in the sand dunes, which are registered cultural sites. Residents and visitors swim, body-board and fish there. And there’s tons of history in the area–the aforementioned lime kiln from the old Paia sugar mill, a World War II bunker and four heiau sites (one of which is underwater). It was also the site of ancient Hawaiian battle as well as home to at least eight different plantation camps from the mill days.
“We thought, let’s start with the 16 acres that the county leases now and expand it,” de Naie said. Then Alexander & Baldwin decided against renewing the County of Maui’s Service Center lease at the Maui Mall, which expires on Sept. 30, 2015. So county officials began talking with land developers about a new Service Center site.
“During negotiations both A&B and Kehalani began offering additional properties to entice the County to accept their particular offer,” Arakawa told the Maui County Council in a Mar. 27, 2014 letter. “Because both the A&B and Kehalani property deals present different opportunities, the Administration respectfully requests that the Council consider one or both of these offers.”
It was the “additional property” offered by A&B that interested the Sierra Club (for its part, Kehalani offered 14 acres near the Wailuku Longs drug store). According to Arakawa’s administration, that deal is simple: In exchange for about $7.1 million, A&B would give seven lots in the Maui Business Park II in Kahului for the service center as well as another 35.55 acres in Paia. That land stretches from Baldwin Beach Park to the Paia Youth Center.
“Sierra Club said this is perfect,” de Naie said. “We’re not opposed to the county buying both sites. The current Waikapu Community Center is tiny, but we’re definitely for the A&B site.”
De Naie said her organization ultimately wants to see Baldwin Beach Park expand towards Paia Town and Kahului–eventually even linking to Ho‘okipa by a bike path–but this is a good start. “The land isn’t good for agriculture anymore,” she said. “The area was subject to sand mining by HC&S for 70 or so years. They did that to produce lime, which was used in the purification processing of the sugar cane at the Paia mill.”
Of course, coastal erosion has also made the whole Baldwin Beach Park area one of the island’s most volatile areas. In just the last couple of decades, we’ve seen trees there topple over, lifeguard towers get moved and restrooms get flooded out.
“The idea of having more land inland makes sense,” said de Naie. “There’s parking on the beach now, but it should be moved to the road.”
De Naie said those attending the Sierra Club’s Apr. 22 party will hear all this and more. In fact, she said they’ve also secured two speakers, who will elaborate on the importance of expanding Baldwin Beach Park: Tara Owens, a coastal hazards specialist with UH Maui College, and Heidi Sherman, a surveyor with Ailana Surveying & Geomatics.
“I feel hopeful about this,” de Naie said. In fact, she added, she’s already even thanked her longtime adversary, A&B’s Mercer “Chubby” Vicens, for offering the land to the county.
John Muir Birthday Party
Tuesday, Apr. 22; 6-7:30pm
401 Alakapa Pl., Spreckelsville
Photo: County of Maui