Ookala Community Forest - Laupahoehoe Train Museum

In 1993 the State planted a small forest of various hardwood trees on a 40 acre piece of land in Ookala, just makai of the highway, right near Kaawalii Gulch. This is not a eucalyptus forest, it was a test forest planted with many different kinds of hardwoods. This site was maintained by the State for two years and then funding ran out. Through the Hawaii Forestry and Community Initiative, an EPA grant was written for the continued planting and maintenance of the forest. In 2000 the forest was turned over to the community through the museum to create a Demonstration Forest. An agreement and partnership was established between the Board of Land and Natural Resources, the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the Laupahoehoe Train Museum, Laupahoehoe School, and the North Hilo Community Council.

The Ookala Community Forest has now been replanted with over 2000 trees that have been selected by students from Laupahoehoe High School and other community groups and individuals. There are more than a dozen different species. In 2002 we were awarded a Forest Stewardship Grant that allows for continued maintenance and improvements to the forest. The three objectives of the plan are to prevent soil erosion, plant a harvestable demonstration forest and reforest a non-harvestable lowland native area.

The stewardship plan shows the native and non-native hardwood stands that will be harvested in the decades to come. It also shows the permanent non-harvestable native lowland forest areas, which were designed by Laupahoehoe alumni Leland Ambrosio and are now being planted. It also details other proposed activities such as; walking/hiking/biking trails, picnic sites, educational areas and possible camping grounds. It is our hope to have this site tie into the “Heritage Corridor” of which the Laupahoehoe Train Museum is a part, and which we hope the Laupahoehoe Point Walking Trail will be a part of eventually.

This forest will be growing over the course of the next 30-50 years or longer. We may not even be alive to see the end results of a harvested tree. Our children and our grandchildren will benefit from this forest and that is the reason the community took on this project. Also the added beauty of a forest that has been created by the community will be a legacy. Senator Daniel Inouye visited the site in 2000 and voiced his support of the project and planted a tree to commemorate the beginning of the community’s forest stewardship. Also in 2000 the American Red Cross awarded Ookala Community Forest its Friend of the Land and Environment award for a project in the humanities. This award was presented to the Laupahoehoe Train Museum and the Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School for their efforts in environmental land stewardship.

Many school and community groups from around the island have come to weed, fertilize and plant trees to create what we have today. The site also was used for two summer sessions for forestry training through AluLike. Laupahoehoe School has also been host to the students of Fujisake, Japan and University of Hawaii at Hilo student doing research in the field of forestry and silvaculture.

We are looking forward to scheduling groups to come out and “get your hands dirty”. Each tree we plant will contribute a lot to the over all project. This is a unique opportunity allowed to us by the State. It is the hope of the state, and the community that we can make this happen.