Ulu La’au Nature Park will be the host to Waimea Outdoor Circle’s 25th Anniversary celebration on Saturday, April 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free to the public, the day will be filled with guided park and stream side tours, food for purchase, baked goods, and sales of fruit trees, exotics, orchids, herbs and bedding plants.
“We’ll have lots of plants that do well on both the wet and dry sides of Waimea,” said Roz Wright, co-chairwoman of the event. “And we’ll have demonstrations on bokashi, a microbial soil type of product, as well as a demo on how to manage fruit flies and ants with natural pest control.”
The Ulu La’au Park has more than 35 indigenous plants growing within its boundaries, which are lovingly tended by committed volunteers as well as school children and other interested volunteer groups. The secluded nature park is situated right in the middle of town, and many use the walking trail within the park to get to school, shops, or to walk their dogs.
The Waimea Outdoor Circle began 25 years ago in 1989 when many trees were being removed and concerned residents reached out to the Kona Outdoor Circle to ask for help. The KOC president, Kathy Martin, told the Waimea residents they should gather to create Waimea Garden Circle under KOC’s guidance. After they reached 150 members, they were large enough to create their own Waimea Outdoor Circle.
Among the many projects WOC has worked on, Ulu La’au nature park is one of their largest. In 1999, after obtaining a lease for the 10-acre parcel of state land, WOC volunteers began clearing invasive plant species and replaced them with indigenous, endemic and canoe plants for all to enjoy.
Carol Hendricks, who was there from the beginning, remembers how the Ulu La’au Park first looked when they went to begin cleaning it.
“The grass was 12 feet high right at the entrance, and we had to use machetes to whack our way in,” Hendricks said. “Guava trees, Christmas berry and cane grass covered this area.”
Now the area is a beautiful walking park, with signs naming each plant, picnic tables, a green house and newly constructed cement tables with benches. WOC is obtaining grants to build a roof over the tables so visitors may hold demonstrations, lectures, gatherings or events. A new bike rack, custom designed and donated by an anonymous volunteer is the newest addition to the park.
“This is always a work in progress,” said Wright, “just like nature.”
One of the special attributes of the park is that it has the largest collection of different colored ohia lehua trees in the state. Hendricks said Leningrad Elarionoff, who has a nursery near South Point, has contributed the trees, as well as his time and love to Ulu La’au.
“Our main guy is Leningrad, who has got a great vision for this place,” Hendricks said. “He will be selling ohia trees at the plant sale, so get here early — they sell out fast!”
Elarionoff said people think ohia tree blossoms come in only two colors, but in reality, there are nine colors of lehua blossoms ranging from bright red to yellow, to different shades of orange in between. One of the rarest ohia is the kupanala ohia, which blooms orange and turns yellow.
“I was a cop in the early 1970s and we constantly had to chase kids out of this area,” Elarionoff said, remembering how many Christmas berry bushes crowded the land. “Now, we see how this park is an asset to our town, and our kids and grandkids may benefit from it.”
Another project of WOC is keeping extraneous signage out of Waimea. Vigilant about extra signage around Waimea business such as sandwich boards or illegal banners, WOC volunteers report violations to the County Department of Public Works. It is mainly about keeping Hawaii beautiful and WOC also works to support laws that require new developments to place utility wires underground.
One of the booths on Saturday will be run by Waimea Trails and Greenways committee members. Clem Lam, chairman, said WTG celebrates 20 years of existence. Their kuleana in the park has been to keep the trail that runs through Ulu La’au clean and free of debris for those who use it.
“We started planning in 1994, and have been meeting every Monday since,” Lam said. “We are basically an advocacy group and we keep the County focused on helping us get a trail.”
The existing mile-long trail, called Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea, begins at Lanakila Park, runs behind the Catholic church, follows the south side of the Ulu La’au, crosses over the stream and continues to the end of Opelo Road. Lam said eventually, when the archaeology inventory study is completed, the trail would begin at Church Row and end at Kamuela View Estates.
“We’ve had a lot of cooperation from Parker Ranch,” said Lam. “We have three or four workdays every year, with Parker School and HPA students getting involved. Even the Marines have worked on the trail. It’s been great.”
What the WOC and WTG members would like to see is more people using the park for recreation and events as well as more volunteers who could help with the upkeep of the trail and park.
“One of our volunteers, James Hustace, is under 30 years old, and the rest of us are ancient,” Clam said with a laugh. “Come to our Monday meetings at 5 to 6 p.m., at the Waimea Preservation Office. Everyone is welcome!”
The trail use is open during daylight hours, and dogs must be on a leash. Pick-up after dogs is required, and within the park there are several trash bins to deposit bagged dog droppings. Bicycles must yield to pedestrians, and everyone is invited to enjoy the walk.
WOC holds their volunteer workdays two Saturdays a month from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and gloves, tools, snacks and water will be provided. For “Make a Connection” month, Hendricks said Waimea Country School would be coming to work in the park on April 22, Waimea Middle School eighth graders on April 23, and Honokaa Elementary first graders on May 27.
“This is a chance for the students to learn about Hawaiian plants, how they are used, and then they roll up their sleeves and work for an hour,” said Hendricks. “We try to impress on them that this is their park.”
Cheryl Langton, WOC’s current president, is excited about the upcoming anniversary celebration.
“It’s the 15th year celebration for UIu La’au and we’ll be giving out free seed packets,” Langton said. “Vendors will have all kinds of plants for sale as well as plants which are propagated in our greenhouse.”
One of the regular volunteers, Jean Bassen, said she’s been helping at Ulu La’au for more than five years. She found Ulu La’au was a great place to walk her dogs, and loved how safe the park felt.
“It’s a beautiful place to work and it’s nice to get away from the plugged-in world,” said Bassen.
WOC’s future plans for Ulu La’au include construction of an education center and restrooms, the addition of more picnic benches and tables, a drinking fountain and improved parking.
For more information about the April 12 Anniversary Celebration, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 443-4482. More about Waimea Trails and Greenways may be found at waimeatrails.org. The website for the Waimea Outdoor Circle is www.waimeaoutdoorcircle.org.