Happy birthday, Haleakala National Park—and the National Park Service, and the Friends of Haleakala National Park. It’s a big summer for folks involved in any of these organizations and for those who love “America’s best idea,” the national park. There are some who criticize the parks for various reasons. For one thing, they’re extremely controlling about what you do on parkland, as anyone can tell you who has gone off trail, or would like to.
But think about what would’ve happened to Kipahulu, for example, if not for the park taking over. Retired Pan-American Airlines executive Sam Pryor had already bought land overlooking the lower pools at `Ohe`o, planning to build his dream house, when Hawai`i Trail and Mountain Club members persuaded him that this spectacular site should remain forever open to everyone. Sam traded for another piece of land and became one of the biggest supporters of the effort to include Kipahulu in Haleakala National Park. If not for people of conscience like the Hawaii hikers, Sam Pryor and Laurance Rockefeller (who eventually bought that piece of land and donated it), Kipahulu might have gone the way of Makena, one mini mansion after another, usually occupied part time by millionaires from some other place, blocking views and access for everyone else.
So, despite their sometimes picky attitude about what we do on parkland, I for one am grateful that the National Park Service exists to preserve and protect these lands forever. This year is the centennial for both Haleakala National Park and the National Park Service. Haleakala actually predates the service. It was born as part of Hawai`i National Park August 1, 1916, while the park service was officially born August 25.
National parks had been around for years, beginning with the creation in 1872 of the first national park in history, Yellowstone Park. By 1914, the parks scattered about the country were disorganized and lacked funding to protect their natural treasures. Millionaire nature lover Stephen T. Mather wrote to the interior secretary complaining about the parks’ mismanagement and was told that, if he didn’t like the way the parks were being run, he should come to Washington and run them himself. Thus began the National Park Service.
Meanwhile, Hawai`i National Park was not quite a month old, with headquarters at Kilauea on Hawai`i Island. Efforts to create a national park in Hawai`i had been ongoing for years, led by assorted community leaders. On Maui, establishing a park to bring tourists to the island was a major goal of the Chamber of Commerce. Hawai`i resident Lorrin A. Thurston, determined to bring about a Hawai`i park, introduced the idea to vulcanologist Thomas Jaggar, who visited Hawai`i in 1909 in route to Japan to observe volcanoes there. After seeing the great valley at the top of Haleakala known as the “crater,” Jaggar suggested it be included in the proposed national park. “The crater at sunrise is the greatest volcanic spectacle on earth,” he said.
Working with Hawai`i Delegate to Congress Prince Kuhio Kalaniana`ole and other Hawai`i and federal officials, the park boosters met with success. On August 1, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law a bill creating the Hawai`i National Park, with Haleakala included. Haleakala did not separate from its sister park on the Big Island, becoming an independent entity, until July 1961. It has grown since then to include the Kipahulu section (added in 1976), and several thousand acres in Kipahulu and Kaupo were added in the late 20th and early 21st century. A great park now protects natural and archeological treasures known and unknown, preserving them for posterity.
And the Friends of Haleakala National Park, whose goal is “to support educational, cultural, research, and service activities relating to the park and its ecosystems,” will be 20 this year. Friends have pulled many thousands of invasive weeds, raised funds for park programs, hosted public presentations and otherwise worked hard to support the park. Check out the activities of this group at fhnp.org (service trips into the crater, anyone?), and look at the Facebook pages of the Friends and the park for all kinds of activities, including an amazing art exhibit coming to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. It’s party time!