Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park (formerly Kahana Valley State Park) is located in Ko‘olauloa on the windward side of O’ahu, between Kane’ohe and Laʻie, and 26 miles from Honolulu. Kahana is a relatively unspoiled valley, and one of only a few publicly owned ahupuaʻa, or ancient Hawaiian land division, in the state. (DLNR)
In 1965, John J. Hulten (real estate appraiser and State Senator) prepared a report for DLNR noting that Kahana was ideally suited to be a regional park, offering seashore water sports, mountain camping, and salt and freshwater fishing, and a tropical botanical garden. “Properly developed it will be a major attraction with 1,000,000 visits annually.”
The “proper development” he had in mind included 600 “developable acres” for camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and swimming, and foresaw over 1,000 camping sites plus cabins, restaurant, and shops.
He said that a hotel and other commercial buildings could be developed, and wanted the creation of a 50 acre lake. All of this development would be assisted by a botanical garden and a mauka road from Likelike Highway to Kahana.
Instead from 1965 to 1969, the State initiated eminent domain proceedings to acquire the land as a way to prevent a proposed resort development and to retain the open space and rural character of the area. (DlNR)
In 1965, the State condemned the property for park purposes with a $5,000,000 price, paid in five annual installments (which included some federal funds.) By 1969, the State owned Kahana free and clear.
The State acquired the ahupua‘a ‘o Kahana in 1969 from the estate of Mary Foster and six individual lessees. The State was prompted to do so by a 1965 report that portrayed Kahana as a blank slate to be developed in a highly commercial way, including 1,000 camping sites, hotel, cabins, restaurant, a botanical garden, a manmade lake, and shops.
An additional factor supporting state acquisition was that it was one of the few, if not the only, ahupua`a left under virtually sole ownership and in a relatively pristine state.
The families living in Kahana at that time had long-standing ties to the valley, and lobbied the Legislature to allow them to stay in the park and preserve their lifestyle. (Legislative Reference Bureau)
In 1970, a Governor’s task force proposed the concept of a living park that would allow the families to stay and in some way participate in the park. The Governor recommended the concept to the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The residents were allowed to stay on the land under revocable leases.
On December 1, 1993, the Board issued thirty-one leases to families living in Kahana, and in most cases the lessees relocated, as a condition for receiving the leases, from their traditional homes near the coast to new residential subdivisions within Kahana and outside of the coastal flood zone. (Legislature)
In lieu of a monetary payment, the State determined that as a condition of their lease each Kahana family would contribute interpretive services per month to the park, to preserve, restore, and share the history and rural lifestyle of the ahupua‘a with the public.
Each family had to have its adult members contribute twenty-five hours of “interpretive services” each month to the park in exchange for their land lease. The scope of the term “interpretive service” was not well defined, which was soon to become a real problem.
Although the original plan was to delay the interpretive requirements for a year to allow residents to build their homes, the interpretative services were not actually required until February 1996. (LRB)
Over the years, communication difficulties have created challenges between park personnel and residents to the detriment of the cultural interpretive program. Some residents are fully up to date in their required hours, some have partially fallen behind, while others are not participating in the program at all. (DURP, 2013)
Requirements for eligible programs included residents’ interest in the program. This requires programs to be reviewed by a committee working with Park Manager and recommended for action. All aspects of scheduled activities (planning, presenting, clean up, etc.) must be voluntary.
Family members over 14 were accepted as eligible to provide counted working hours. The number of interpretive hours was also fixed to 25 hours per family per month required and a lessee could earn an excess of credit hours (maxing out at 150 hours per year). (DURP, 2013)
In 2017, a resolution in the legislature noted, “lessees are required to contribute twenty-five hours per month of cultural interpretive activities to the park in lieu of lease rent, and although most of the residents are of Hawaiian ancestry and a number have tenure in Kahana going back several generations, many of the current lessees are not engaging in cultural practices”.
That resolution also acknowledged that, “lack of consistent lessee participation and documentation of interpretive hours per the lease requirement makes it evident that the “Living Park” concept has not succeeded in the current form and should be reconsidered”. (There was no action on the resolution by the legislature.)