Big Island Community Takes Restoration of ‘Blue Park’ Into Own Hands
July 12, 2021, 4:53 PM HST
* Updated July 12, 7:48 PM
The story of William Charles Lunalilo Playground, also known locally as Blue Park, is not uncommon among public spaces across the Big Island.
Cut into the side of Mt. Hualālai and fronting the Palani Estates subdivision, time and tread have taken their toll on the picturesque playground, causing a gradual descent into disrepair. In response, a group of community members have galvanized to restore the park and surrounding areas to their former condition.
“I have a 3-year-old (child), so we live in the parks, but there are only three in Kona,” said Maly Romero. “Blue Park has just been going downhill so, so much. The slides are gone. The rubber surfacing material is falling apart and creating a choking hazard. It’s just not right.”
Romero, a Realtor and mother who lives in Kona, has helped spearhead the community renewal effort, which her research indicates could cost between $200,000 and $500,000, depending on the extent of restoration. She said the goal is to raise as much money as possible, transferring anything left over for use to improve other park areas.
“(The work) could be removal and replacement, it could be repairs,” Romero added. “I think at this point in time, anything is better than what we have.”
Romero’s work thus far has included the establishment of a nonprofit organization, the Kona Playgrounds Foundation, as well as coordination with Hawai´i County officials to establish what is called a “Friends of the Park” agreement.
Maurice Messina, director of the County Parks and Recreation Department, said such arrangements are as crucial as they are widespread on the Big Island, with a limited park maintenance budget proving an unfortunate and annual reality. For the current fiscal year, Parks and Rec has just over $800,000 dedicated to maintenance, which is nearly double the $460,000 previously allocated by the County Council before that figure was increased at the most recent budget hearing.
“We’ve had a lot of successful projects accomplished, whether it’s repairs, clean up, beautification or new construction,” Messina said. “We heavily rely on these public/private partnerships. And communities that rely heavily on a (local) park, they always come in and they help us.”
Friends of the Park agreements can be as minor as organizing a beach cleanup or closing a park for a day to allow people opportunity to paint picnic tables. They can also involve much more complex and expensive undertakings, like the one Romero is hoping to generate for Blue Park in Kona.
“This agreement can lend credibility to the group,” Messina explained. “The second portion is establishing exactly what we want to do. In this case, (Romero’s) group will work with the county’s in-house planners and project coordinators, who will give guidance and make sure things are done (in accordance with county statutes).”
“They’ve set a wonderful goal,” he added, “so we want to help them.”
Romero has already begun a fundraising effort via a GoFundMe campaign, which had topped $1,500 as of Monday, July 12. She said the financials of Kona Playgrounds Foundation, which will manage the donation effort, will be available to the public online. All those interested in being part of the effort will work on a volunteer basis.
“I think the way it’s being set up, it can be a long-lasting foundation — something set in stone where there are funds enough to also maintain the park in the future,” Romero said.
Messina added that any community groups interested in park restoration projects of any sort across the Big Island may reach out to the department directly by phone at 808-961-8311 or visit the Hawai´i County website for information on where to send an email.