OHE March 8, 2000 (Opaeula Watershed Project)

Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2000 08:21:16 -1000
From: Patrick Rorie (prorie@k12.hi.us)
Subject: A Visit to the Opae'ula Watershed Project

The Opae'ula Watershed Project is a proposed 150 acre fence enclosure on the Ko'olau summit between the Pe'ahinai'a Trail and an unnamed ridge to the north, to be constructed by the Army on land leased from Bishop Estate. It will encroach upon the final half mile of Pe'ahinai'a and along the Ko'olau Summit Trail (KST) for 500 meters (approx. .31 mile) above Kaluanui. I received an invitation from Army environmentalists to walk the intended fence-line, and the visit took place Friday, Feb. 4th and Saturday, Feb. 5th. Originally, the environmentalists had me penciled in for a Thursday morning chopper ride with them, but in an effort to save as much vacation time as possible, I opted to take half a day off Friday and backpack to the area.

Fred Boll and I met in Waikele at noon on the 4th and drove to the Poamoho Trailhead. A big mahalo to him for the ride. We found the road to Poamoho to be in excellent shape, having dried out since the rains earlier this year. I made final preparations for my trip as Fred turned his truck around and headed back to Mililani. At 1:10 p.m. I continued on foot enduring humid (unobstructed sun, sweltering heat)/hazy conditions. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hike of Poamoho wishing I had time to drop down to Poamoho stream for a refreshing dip.

A few words about the Poamoho Ridge Trail. It is the flag ship and pride of the State DLNR despite the fact that one must trespass on Castle & Cook land to get to the forest reserve boundary. Although it hasn't been cleared in a while by the State (prisoners), it is still relatively open, and is the shortest distance to the Ko'olau summit of all the central leeward Ko'olau trails. Furthermore, it contains a lovely campsite "nestled in a gulch on the leeward side of the summit ridge"*, is the opening leg of a magnificent super hike (Poamoho-KST-Schofield or Waikane), and its terminus is only half a mile from a new cabin. "The trail passes through some truely wild country and ends at a windy overlook with one of the best views on the island. The variety of native plants on the upper section is especially good. You can also see native birds, such as 'apapane and 'amakihi."**

At approx. 2:45 p.m. I reached the Cline Memorial (still devoid of its faceplate), and, shortly thereafter, climbed to the top of a hump on the summit ridge (elev. 2,520 ft) for a breather and to put on gators. Clouds off the windward pali obscured views in that direction, but I had decent visual clarity to leeward of the nearby pu'us (convoluted topography) and of the Wahiawa plain in the distance.

Leaving Poamoho behind, I headed north along the KST at 3 p.m. bound for Pe'ahinai'a (lit. "beckon to the fish") and a rendezvous with Army environmentalists. Along the way I noticed quite a bit of pig dung on the footpath, plenty of fresh hoof marks, but that the trail was not as muddy compared to when Gene Robinson, Roger Breton and I used it in late November of last year (not that the trail was mud free, far from it!).

Further ahead, numerous crimson 'ohi'a lehua blossoms caught my attention, and I recognized fresh boot prints in the mud going in the opposite direction (I would find out later that the boot prints belonged to Joby Rohrer and Kapua Kawelo, two of the environmentalists, on a mission to find rare native flora in the Helemano drainage).

At 4:05 p.m. and completely fogged in, I arrived at the "windy grassy area covered with landing mats"* (an Army landing zone (LZ) 100 yards north of Pe'ahinai'a). Take a look at the map on page 107 in Ball's "Backpackers Guide". The dotted line heading west above map point K represents the Pe'ahinai'a Trail. The landing mats are between Pe'ahinai'a and map point J. Five Northface aqua colored tents and a blue/yellow eureka hobbie tent sat atop the landing mats. The area is normally extremely windswept, but on this day almost still conditions prevailed, creating a quiet, eerie feel to it. No one was around, so I dropped my pack and set up my slumerjack bivy a few feet beyond the landing mats.

With plenty of time remaining in the afternoon, I walked back to the Pe'ahinai'a/KST junction (elev. 2,763 ft) and then explored down Pe'ahinai'a. The final half mile is wide open passing through low level, mostly native vegetation. During my descent of the trail I encountered one of the environmentalists (Matthew) and a volunteer (Gus) coming toward me. I introduced myself and explained my reason for being in the area.

I concluded with the statement "I'm here to walk the fence-line.".

"You're standing right on it!" Matt responded.

Without thinking of the repercussions, I shot back "What a bummer!".

Facial expressions usually don't lie, and I knew from Matt and Gus's reaction that I would not criticize the project again in their presence. Gus departed for the summit while Matt and I descended a short distance to the point where Pe'ahinai'a bends left before returning to its western course. He gave a spiel on what the Army is doing and the need for the fence.

"This region is so broad. Why can't the Army put the fence over there (off the trail)?" I asked.

"Because we don't want to create another corridor through native plants." Matt replied.

From the distinct bend, the two of us backtracked to the junction with the Summit Trail. Matt pointed out a plot marked with PVC pipes used to test small amounts of various poisons to see if they could kill alien plants without harming native species. He also mentioned checking transects for pig damage, inspecting pig snares (a fun job , esp. if one discovers a rotting pua'a carcass), rat control, and native snail searches among other activities he and his colleagues engage in. Before returning to base camp, Matt and I carefully climbed over a low hill to windward where he showed me a rare native mint and a lobelia with leaves similar to cabbage. Remaining on the summit crest instead of dropping down to the KST, we reached the landing mats at dusk (6:30 p.m.) and greeted other Army biologists who arrived a short time later, including Vince Costello and Jordan Jokiel. Kevin, a U.H. grad student, also accompanied them. Last but certainly not least, Joby and Kapua entered the LZ, bringing the total number of campers to eight.

Dinner preparations commenced immediately within a circle of coolers, a propane lantern placed in the middle to illuminate the spot. The biologists joked amongst themselves similar to the way the HTM trailclearers do, minus the risque mouths, and we talked about the Danish women/Ohulehule debacle, the clearing of guava on the KST in Pupukea, and the Kawailoa Trail. I asked Vince, a hardy and experienced hiker, about Pe'ahinai'a, and he shared that it is best to start from the trailhead because the ridge splinters in the middle. That, along with the overgrowth, make it tough to tell if one is on the correct ridge if traveling toward Brian's mountain house from the summit (Vince has never completed the entire hike). According to Kapua, the environmentalists have been dropped by helicopter somewhere in the middle of the ungraded ridge trail where they established a campsite, but she emphasized that it is undesirable to clear Pe'ahinai'a lest pigs use the footpath to reach the summit and inflict further damage to the territory.

Joby and Kapua gave a report of their findings in the Helemano drainage; specifically, the discovery (and marking) of some rare native flora, inviting pools, and nice waterfalls. Joby shared other miscellaneous information: the Army environmentalists make quarterly visits to the region; the fence will stay on the Ko'olau summit ridge whenever the KST winds in and out of gullies (the fence will not always be on the KST); the fence enclosure near the Castle/KST junction surrounds the only known mature bog on O'ahu (the Ka'ala bog is considered immature - perhaps Kost, Ken or Brandon can explain the difference) and contains several rare native species; the company selected to install the fence will begin this summer; Bishop Estate and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are footing the majority of the bill for the project with the State DLNR paying for supplies and the Army clearing and marking the fence route.

Friday night was one of the finest evenings I've ever experienced on the Ko'olau Summit. At 8:56 p.m. the sky became completely clear with only an occasional slight breeze present (often calm, quiet), a chill in the air. As a result, the group enjoyed excellent star gazing, featuring Pleiades, Orion, Gemini to name a few. Later, the Big Dipper could be seen to the northeast. Exhausted from a hard day of labor, the biologists retired for the evening inside their tents. Meanwhile, I hiked to the Pe'ahinai'a/KST junction to check out the views to leeward and identified the silhouette of a prominent ridge to the south and, in the distance, the city lights along the south shore. After getting my visual fill from that location, I ventured to the edge of the sheer windward pali fronting the LZ and could make out the silhouette of Mount Ohulehule with the Kaneohe city lights in the background! But the best thing about the view of the windward side was what I couldn't recognize. As I gazed down upon undeveloped Punalu'u, Kahana and Waikane valleys, I could see nothing but darkness - like the ancient Hawaiians long ago! Having only tramped a mere 5 miles to get to the campsite, I did not feel inclined to sleep, so I gained pleasure from my surroundings until midnight.

== Saturday, February 5th

Startled by the sounds of the environmentalists stirring about the campsite, I awoke at 7 a.m. and emerged from my canvass covering to a beautiful, crystal clear morning. Although no rain had fallen overnight, a heavy due accumulated on my slumberjack bivy. Going at an unhuried pace, we broke down our tents and packed up for the return to civilization scheduled for the early afternoon.

At 9 a.m., the sun shining brightly on the LZ, Joby, Gus and I headed north on the KST at a botanical pace to study plants, look for snails on marked trees, and walk the proposed fence-line marked by orange ribbon. Native holly, kopiko, kolea lau li'i (have small leaves and are abundant in the Ko'olaus), 'akia (used as fish poison by ancient Hawaiians), ha'iwale (African violet family and very rare), ho'awa, mokehana were a few of the lesser known native flora we noticed on the way to the fence enclosure near the Castle/KST junction. The lapalapa trees "quaked", even at the slightest breeze, and 'apapane sang, much to our delight. Joby explained that the pigs love to eat hapu'u ferns and rototill in the soil allowing teraleapus to gain a foothold. He brought to our attention the fact that plenty of mature loulu palms are visible but few if any babies exist because rats eat loulu seeds and pigs enjoy living around the base of the trees.

Regarding the fence, Joby mentioned: The fence will not encroach upon the KST until the Kaluanui region. However, prior to that area, it will pass close to the top of a waterfall notch to windward of a windswept grassy area. Corners are more difficult and costlier to construct, thus a straight path is always desireable. It is also difficult and more expensive to fence over drainages. To the west, the fence will cross two drainages but in order to save money and make the job easier for the fencers, the KST will be used instead of crossing drainages in Kaluanui. Furthermore, to use another corridor other than the KST would involve creating a 4 foot gap of disturbance through native vegetation (old ohi'a papa trees would be badly damaged or destroyed) because a skirt is needed to keep the pigs from digging under the fence. 500 meters is a small piece of the total fence length.

The KST separates Bishop Estate land and Kaluanui (State land), and while traveling this section my heart sunk every time I spotted an orange ribbon tied to a tree limb near the trail. The three of us reached the place where the intended fence-line departs the Summit Trail and heads west at 11:38 a.m. I recognized the mature bog enclosure not far away, visible to the north, and suggested we go have a look. En route to the bog, Joby pointed out a healthy group of lobelia gaudichaudii normally found on the windswept windward pali.

After arriving at the enclosure (330 meters in length surrounding 4 acres, two years old in the summer of 2000), Joby, Gus and I walked slowly around it inspecting flora inside the fence. The majority of the plants are low to the ground, including lehua makanoi (creeping 'ohi'a - easily identified by their crimson flowers), the cabbage leaf lobelia, ko'oko'olau, and native bunch grasses. 3 endangered and a total of 100 species live within the enclosure. We agreed that a sign should be mounted on the enclosure informing the public of its purpose, and I made a point with Joby that the structure protects the bog while not encroaching upon the KST - a win-win scenario I wish the new fence would also achieve. The statement was well taken.

The three of us sat down to consume lunch following the examination, and Joby radioed the pilot of a Hughes 500 helicopter (like the one in "Magnum P.I.") to come pick us up. He then gave Gus and I instructions on what to do when the chopper landed.

Talk about a joy ride! "Yee ha!" I thought to myself with a big smile on my face as the pilot whisked us away! I'm not a proponent of helicopters, esp. those that are so annoying above the Na Pali Coast, but I had fun and experienced a different perspective of the convoluted topography (the streamlets, ridges and low hills) from above. The pilot dropped us off at the LZ, but I had mixed emotions about flying out with the biologists. On the one hand, I looked forward to riding in the helicopter again, but the sun light shining on the verdant slopes of Piei, Ohulehule and the massive ridge containing Turnover made them sparkle! I could have spent the rest of the afternoon and another night up there, no problem!

Unfortunately, and all too soon, the chopper returned and transported Joby, Gus and I to a clearing near Bryan's mountain house. Between 2:45 and 3:15 p.m. the pilot retrieved our gear and the other environmentalists, and by 3:30 p.m. we had piled into two 4x4 vehicles and were traveling on the Pa'ala'a Uka Pupukea Road bound for the Helemano Military Reservation.

At 4:08 p.m. we pulled into the base yard near the entrance to Wheeler AAF in Wahiawa and began the gear cleanup process. During the hosing down procedure, Kapua shared that she and those with her had found a total of 27 native tree snails throughout the day on an unnamed leeward Ko'olau Ridge. Eat your heart out Nathan Yuen! :-)

Late in the afternoon, Joby and Kapua dropped me off in the parking lot of my condo complex in Waikele. Before bidding them farewell, I appealed to them one final time to consider sparing the Ko'olau Summit Trail from fencing.

Notes: Kapua Kawelo, Joby Rohrer, Matthew ?, Vince Costello, and Jordan Jokiel are among the hardest working and most knowledgeable biologists on O'ahu. They have a real passion for preserving O'ahu's native rain forest. A big mahalo to them for allowing me to visit the Opae'ula Watershed Project. However, the Army has already messed up/ruined two superb hiking trails on O'ahu (Makua Rim and Ohikilolo Ridge) and now the Ko'olau Summit Trail is in danger. They view the existing trails bordering the Opae'ula Watershed Project (the KST and Pe'ahinai'a) as pig freeways and desire to see them enclosed or clogged with a fence.

The Opae'ula Watershed Project is a good and necessary endeavor. Nevertheless, the Ko'olau summit ridge is very broad in the region proposed for the project; therefore, it is feasible to locate the fence 20 feet or more to windward of the Ko'olau Summit Trail. It is true that native flora will be damaged or destroyed if a new corridor is established, but the Summit Trail must not be compromised - it is a historic trail built in the 1930's by the CCC with government funds for the public's enjoyment. Incredible human effort went into constructing the graded contour footpath.

I'm afraid the Opae'ula Watershed Project is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of fencing in the Central Ko'olau Range. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of acquiring the land between Kipapa and Schofield-Waikane for designation as a wildlife refuge, which almost certainly means more fencing. If the same strategy of fencing is used in that region (stay on the summit ridge when the Ko'olau Summit Trail winds in and out of gullies) then special places like the summit of Ka'aumakua and the terminus of the Kipapa Ridge Trail will be fenced. Randy Kennedy, HTM member and head of the State DLNR Natural Area Reserve System, has assured me that there will not be a lot of fencing in the Central Ko'olaus. Perhaps not a lot but certainly a significant amount.

A vocal opponent of the proposed fencing of the KST, Keith Palmer (HTM member and conservation chair of the Sierra Club O'ahu Chapter) was originally scheduled to walk the intended fence-line with me, but a day or two beforehand, the Army sent the Sierra Club's Honolulu office a letter instructing Keith not to come.

Finally, an overnight trip to the Ko'olau summit from Brian's mountain house via the Pe'ahinai'a Trail represents the ultimate hiking adventure on O'ahu. Gene? Dayle? Peter? Mark (Short)? Anytime you're ready! :-)


* Ball, Jr., Stuart M. THE BACKPACKERS GUIDE TO HAWAI'I. Honolulu: University Of Hawaii Press, 1996.

** Ball, Jr., Stuart M. THE HIKERS GUIDE TO O'AHU. Honolulu: University Of Hawaii Press, 1993.

== Patrick

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