Who celebrated National Trail Day? Who even knew there was such a day? Who doesn’t care about it but just likes to hike? I’m with you, and on Saturday, June 2, 2007 I took part in a five-mile hike through the Mauna Lei Arboretum in West Maui. The county’s Na Ala Hele and the Maui Land & Pineapple Company sponsored the hike, which is through ML&P land. About 60 people showed up, even though it was one of the hottest days of the year.
The day began at the ritzy Kapalua Resort with a jovial raffle drawing that included prizes like shirts, a fanny pack, a first-aid kit, gift card and socks. Oh yes—socks. A young boy won one pair, prompting someone in the crowd to yell, “You’ll grow into them.” Yeah, in about five years.
Everyone went home a winner of sorts, with each participant getting a small compass, two types of bug repellant samples, a $5-off coupon for an online Thorlo purchase and an American Hiking Society sticker. Who doesn’t like stickers?
Then the hosts split everyone into groups of 15, with two leaders for each group.
After that we boarded biodiesel-powered trucks and headed to D.T. Fleming’s garden of native and foreign plants. I shouldered my way into the party headed by Randy Bartlett, Maui Land and Pine’s Pu‘u Kukui Watershed Manager. His group was going in first and I had plans for the rest of my Saturday.
Which ended up falling through.
Anyway, professional Oregonian trail designers constructed the Mauna Lei Arboretum trail. There were mixed feelings about hiring designers from Oregon instead of somewhere more local, but I had no complaints. The plants were clearly labeled, with their English, Hawaiian (if applicable) and Latin names all listed along with markings indicating whether they were indigenous, endemic or non-native. I saw ohia lehua, along with alahele, the wise lama and akia, my favorite fish poison, amongst other tongue twisting native flora.
Unfortunately for Hawai‘i, Fleming was “an innovative thinker and quickly diversified crops,” according to a sign at the beginning of the trail. He invited Pacific Rim plants that became invasive like chefflera (which should be familiar to landscapers), strawberry guava (my personal favorite source of Vitamin C), the cute shoe button plant that totally takes me back to the 1920’s, the usefully decorative Christmas berry, a fake cinnamon shrub that smelled good but which I realize I smell a little too often, and several species of banyans. I can’t say I blame Fleming for these rather likeable floras; maybe he wanted to boost the island’s immune system with a little vaccination attempt.
While I’m sure the majority of the hikers found the wealth of local flora and vistas by the Pu‘uki Preserve the highlights of the hike, I rather enjoyed the noninvasive non-natives like the Indian bo, whose leaf leaves behind a skeleton as it decomposes, becoming a perfect window decoration. I snagged one as a souvenir before the event came to an end.
The current trail is the first five miles of the 100 ML&P plans to put on what it considers the largest private reserve in Hawai‘i. About 45 miles of the trails will be designated for hiking only, leaving almost 20 miles to mountain bikers, six to equestrian fans, a little over one for zip-lines, a half mile for something called a zipper lift, and another seven a half miles along the coast.
The company says the Mauna Lei Arboretum trail should be open to the public by July, later followed by the pedestrian three and a half miles of the Kapalua Coastal Trail, which still requires the company to obtain a few county permits.
“This is a special place with native plants that don’t exist anywhere else and its fragility is the reason for keeping it closed to the public,” Bartlett said as we were driving back. “I hope people can respect that.” MTW