16th Annual Run for the Dry Forest launches this Saturday

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Last year, Kona resident Julie Ziemelis scaled the side of a cinder cone in a West Hawai’i forest reserve as part of the annual Run for the Dry Forest event, where she and a few of her fellow nature enthusiasts broke a sweat for a good cause.

“It was a challenging run and I felt like I really had to run the hardest race in my life, but we trained harder for it and will be tackling it again on Saturday. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a great way to support the dry forest initiative,” she said.

Every year, runners like Ziemelis head up mauka (mountainside), along the Hualālai volcano where an area extends from seal level to within 1 mile of the mountain summit. It’s where the annual 10 km run, 5km run/walk or the 1/4-mile keiki run race is held, and is a chance to raise awareness for a good cause, she said.

Julie Ziemelis said she’ll be participating again in the annual Run for the Dry Forest, a multi partner initiative to raise awareness about conservation efforts at the Pu‘uwa‘awaʻa State Forest Reserve. Photo courtesy.

“This run allows hundreds of people to see the forest, see the work being done and share it with others. In so doing, we raise awareness to protect and foster its use for the future,” she said.

The Pu‘uwa‘awaʻa State Forest Reserve is a 37,600 acre-area managed by the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and is part of the U.S Forest Service Hawaiʻi Experimental Tropical Forest.

Pu‘uwa‘awa‘a also holds significant cultural importance to the Native Hawaiians, providing a vital habitat for numerous native species, many of which are unique to the Hawaiian Islands.


Rebekah D. Ohara, Chief Executive Officer at the Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests, who has been involved with the race for three years now, said there’s great efforts being made toward conservation at Pu‘uwa‘awaʻa.

“In the last 10 years, Nāpuʻu Natural Resource Management has fenced in over 1,000 acres to protect native species from the impacts of non-native hooved animals, out-planted 51,000 native species, and controlled weeds across 1,000 acres of restoration area,” she said.

Chloe Martins-Keliihoomalu is the resource assistant with Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests, where she supports native Hawaiian led projects there through the Kaiāulu Pu‘uwa‘awa‘a Community-Based Subsistence Forest Area.  

Kaiāulu Pu‘uwa‘awa‘a is a growing partnership of multi-generational community leaders, nonprofit organizations, and agencies working to transform 84-acres of pastureland into native dry land and mixed-mesic forest in Pu‘uwa‘awa‘a. They also foster education for K-12 students, improve access to culturally significant plants, and enhance community wellbeing, as it is collaboratively developed and implemented community-based partnership natural resource management. 

“We look to the community, lineal descendants and look to them how they want to manage it,” she said.


She said she loves being a part of maintaining the natural elements of the place.

“Most inspiring part is looking at the plants and seeing how well they do in such a dry area,” she said.

Not only is Puʻuwaʻawaʻa a culturally-significant landscape, the area is also home to 8 endangered bird species, 16 endangered plant species, and at least an additional 40 rare plant species.

A map describing the human impact on the dry forest.

This includes the Nēnē (Hawaiʻi State bird), Opeʻapeʻa (Hawaiian Hoary Bat), an ‘Okaʻi (the endangered Blackburn’s sphinx moth), several rare native forest birds, and numerous endemic insects.

It’s also home to the Hawaiʻi State flower, Maʻo Hao Hele, Hau Kuahiwi, and many other plants and trees that are unique to Hawaiʻi and important to Hawaiian culture.


Race supporters and participants learn about these unique facts and more during the run, where there will be outreach booths from many partner organizations to showcase the work being done at Puʻuwaʻawaʻa and elsewhere in Hawai’i to conserve native species and promote Hawaiian culture.

Each year the event features a species endemic to the region. This year’s plant is Honohono, one of Hawaiʻiʻs mintless mints.

So far there’s about 260 runners registered, which is “pretty typical,” Ohara said, although numbers have grown some over the years.

Last year’s was broke a record with more than 300 finishers.

Race breakdown:

10 km Run Race will begin at: 7:45 a.m.

The 10 km course is a challenging trail running experience, featuring a 1,200 feet of elevation gain in the first 3 miles, loose rocky footing and narrow winding trails. Those participating in the 10 km run can start at the Meeting House and run one lap around the reservoir before heading up the steep winding 4 wheel drive road. The halfway point above Pu‘u Wa‘awa‘a may give runners a chance to see Hualālai, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Kohala. Runners will then circle the cinder cone and enjoy the fast single track descent through an old corral and horse pasture, to the finish at the Meeting House. This event is for experienced trail runners. Baby strollers are not allowed.

5 km Run and Walk Race will start on time at: 8:00 a.m.

The 5 km course includes stretches of dirt, coarse rock, and paved roads. Suitable for most people, including families. Because of the rocky sections, sturdy running or walking shoes are recommended and baby strollers should have large wheels. There is 300 feet of elevation gain/loss. Start at the Meeting House and circle the reservoir once before heading up the dirt road past the parking area to the main ranch road. Turn left and proceed down the paved road about 1 1/8 miles. You will be directed left again over a section of rocky road for about 1/4 mile to the old airstrip. Continue down the airstrip and turn left after the airplane hangar. The trail goes up hill, through an open gate and back to the Meeting House.

Keiki Run Start time 9:30 a.m. (Tentative)

A free event. Non-competitive, approximately ¼ mile run around the reservoir. Parents are welcome to join the kids. Start time is dependent on finish times for 5k and 10k runs.

There will also be free fun, non-competitive 1/4-mile keiki run on flat surfaces. Parents are welcome to join the kids, check out the educational booths and interpret trails.


From Kailua Kona:

Take the Māmalahoa highway (190) north past Makalei golf course. After the 22 mile marker, and just before ascending the bluff to Pu‘u Anahulu, watch for the Forest Reserve entrance on the mauka (uphill) side. Enter through the metal gate and close behind you, take the right-hand fork in the road up ~1.6 miles and follow the signs to the race parking area. Allow ~35 minutes to reach the highway entrance from Kailua Kona, and 45 more minutes to reach race headquarters.

From Waimea:

Take the Māmalahoa highway (190) south past the Big Island Country Club. After the 21 mile marker and just after descending the bluff, watch for the Forest Reserve entrance on the mauka (uphill) side. Enter through the metal gate and close behind you, take the right-hand fork in the road up ~1.6 miles and follow the signs to the race parking area. Allow ~35 minutes to reach the highway entrance from Waimea, and 45 more minutes to reach race headquarters.


There will be parking in a large mowed field near the race start/finish ~2 miles up from the main highway gate. Bring your race gear and walk down to the registration and start/finish area (about a 5-10 minute walk).

Divisions & Prizes

Age group awards, male and female, in the following divisions (Lots of great door prizes – all participants eligible):

  • 5 km run/walk 19 & under, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70 & over
  • 10 km run – 19 & under, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70 & over

You can still register up until Friday. No pets are allowed at the event.

Megan Moseley
Megan Moseley is a full-time journalist for Pacific Media Group. Her experience ranges from long and short-form reporting to print, digital, radio and television news coverage. In Hawaiʻi, she's worked for local media outlets and has covered a wide range of topics including local and state politics, environmental affairs, Native Hawaiian issues, travel, tourism and education. She covers the West for Restaurant Hospitality.

She's a 2010 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Magazine Journalism and specializations in Geology and History. She's currently working on her master's degree from New York University and Ohio University and is focused on conflict resolution and peace practices in indigenous cultures in the Pacific.
Megan can be reached at [email protected].
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