East Hawaii News

New initiatives aimed at mitigating visitor impacts, protecting resources in Keaukaha area of Hilo

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A collaborative effort between several agencies is underway in the Keaukaha area of Hilo on the Big Island with two new initiatives to help mitigate impacts of visitors and protect the coastline area’s natural and cultural resources.

People swim at Richardson Ocean Park, also known as Waiuli Beach Park, on Tuesday morning, July 11, in the Keaukaha area of Hilo as students learn about an adjacent fishpond in the background, behind the rock wall. (Photo by Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)

The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, Hawai‘i County and Island of Hawai‘i Visitors Bureau announced Tuesday two new community-based destination management initiatives — the Keaukaha Steward Pilot Program and Community Cultural-Based Education Program.

The Keaukaha Steward Pilot Program is a project of the County, Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, Kupu, Keaukaha and Leleiwi Community Associations, Hui Ho‘oleimaluō and the Keliʻi William Ioane Legacy Foundation, which is the lead organization.

Thanks to funding from the state tourism authority, Kupu was able to hire four part-time stewards, two at Waiuli, also known as Richardson Ocean Park, and two others at Lehia Beach Park — throughout the week to help educate visitors about the area and history, gather visitation data and mitigate unwanted behaviors such as littering. The six-month pilot program runs through December.


“Kupu is honored to support this community-led effort to mālama these areas,” said the organization’s Vice President for External Affairs Kāwika Riley in a press release.

The Keliʻi William Ioane Legacy Foundation was also selected to develop and operate a new Community Cultural-Based Education Program that will help balance the preservation of cultural and natural resources with mindful visitation in the Keaukaha area. The education program is supported by funds provided by Hawai‘i Tourism Authority and in conjunction with the County and Island of Hawai‘i Visitors Bureau.

“As an ‘ohana, we have seen the dramatic alteration of our wahi pana (celebrated, noted or legendary places) by the influx of visitors to our community spaces where we as children played and learned at Waiuli and Lehia parks,” said ʻĀinaaloha W. Ioane, project manager for the Keliʻi William Ioane Legacy Foundation, daughter of Native Hawaiian community advocate Keli‘i “Skippy” Ioane and cultural specialist for the Keaukaha Steward Pilot Program, said in the press release. “We are grateful for these opportunities to activate a collective community abundance and mālama ‘āina.”

The parking lot at Richardson Ocean Park, also known as Waiuli Beach Park, in the Keaukaha area of Hilo on the Big Island was nearly full just before noon Tuesday, July 11. (Photo by Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)

The cultural education program will support the Keaukaha Steward Pilot Program by enhancing the stewards’ cultural and historical knowledge of the Keaukaha area to be shared with the community and parkgoers. The program focuses on community collaboration, including with the Edith Kanaka‘ole Foundation through its Honuaiākea (Kapu and Kānāwai Papakū Makawalu) Process workshop. Staff members will synthesize information gathered from the two-day workshop and design learning materials for community and steward use.

“These new programs uplift the Keaukaha community, provide opportunities for residents and reduce visitor impacts through place-based education and stewardship,” said Hawai‘i Tourism Authority Director of Planning Caroline Anderson in the press release.

Residents identified Keaukaha as a highly visited hot spot in Hawai‘i County’s 2020-25 Hawai‘i Island Tourism Strategic Plan and the tourism authority’s 2021-23 Hawai‘i Island Destination Management Action Plan. The two new initiatives aim to address residents’ concerns through community-led, government-supported action at Waiuli and Lehia parks.


“The ‘āina-based curriculum will become an invaluable resource for the community and ongoing preservation of these special places,” said Island of Hawai‘i Visitors Bureau Destination Manager Rachel Kaiama in the press release.

Keaukaha is the second Big Island community to implement a steward program for improved destination management and preservation. 

In 2021, the state tourism authority also provided funding for the Pololū Trail Steward Program, a pilot project in North Kohala, which is a collaboration between Nā Ala Hele Trail and Access Program, the lineal descendent community of Pololū and Kupu.

“Our administration recognizes the value of community collaboration and the importance of perpetuating authentic Hawaiian culture, particularly in and around our wahi pana,” said Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth in the press release. “By implementing place-based education and stewardship programs, we can actively engage residents to preserve our cherished destinations while promoting sustainable tourism.”

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