Palaʻau is Molokai’s only state park; DLNR has a license to use the land as a park from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
In 1921, when the Hawaiian Homes Act of 1920 went into effect, title to the approximate 230-acres of Palaʻau 3 (Palaʻau) was transferred to the Hawaiian Homes Commission (the actual transfer and DHHL use happened in 1923, after fences were finished.)
The area had been part of lands previously used as cattle pasture, first by Kamehameha V Lot Kapuāiwa, then by Molokai Ranch (formed in 1897.) The area was leased by Molokai Ranch until it expired in 1918.
Then, on July 19, 1928, the Hawaiian Homes Commission passed a motion to dedicate Palaʻau 3 for the purpose of reforestation by the Board of Agriculture and Forestry. (A 1928 Attorney General opinion noted the lands must first be returned to control of the Commissioner of Public Lands before it could be set aside as a forest reserve.)
The next year, the Hawaiian Homes Commission officially returned Palaʻau 3 to the Commissioner of Public Lands of the Territory of Hawai’i, to again be managed as part of the Moloka’i Forest Reserve. (At the time, the lands were not being leased to native Hawaiians as authorized under the provisions of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.)
On March 25, 1930, by proclamation of the Governor of the Territory of Hawai’i, Palaʻau was added to the Molokai Forest Reserve.
Between 1931 and 1933, Palaʻau was fenced off and the Board of Commissioners began reforestation of the land with trees as follows: about 3,500 in 1931, 8,400 in 1932 and over 5,100 in 1933.
In 1936, a nursery was started as part of the Emergency Conservation Work project, or the Civilian Conservation Corps and trees were grown for outplanting at Palaʻau. Within the next 5-year nearly 200,000 additional trees were planted.
The government and DHHL recognized “forest growth is a well-recognized aid to the protection and conservation of water which is one of the prime necessities in the case of persons who will secure leases of Hawaiian home lands.” (Letter of Territorial Forester to Board of Commissioners of Agriculture and Forestry, May 18, 1936)
Besides its watershed benefits, folks also saw the benefit of using the property for park purposes, as well as a lookout over Kalaupapa. On June 29, 1955, Palaʻau was established as Palaʻau Park under the Territorial Parks system.
In addition to a small campground and passive recreation area, one of the primary purposes of the Palaʻau Park is the Kalaupapa overlook. (Nearby Parking and a short walk take people to the north shore cliffs and overlook of the peninsula.)
In addition there are several cultural features within the site, primarily the Nanahoa complex. These four sites include two phallic stones.
The six foot high male stone is called ‘Kauleonanahoa’ (the penis of Nanahoa – ‘one of the finest examples of phallic stones found throughout the Hawaiian Islands.’)
“The rock was believed to make barren women fertile and as a precaution newly-wedded women would sit on it one night.”
The female stone has several names, including Kawahuna,’ ‘Nawaʻakaluli’ and ‘Waihuʻehuʻe’ (‘it appears to be in its natural state with a large groove down the center.’)
The more than 24-petroglyphs are located on four boulders and consists of human stick figures and a series of grooves located near the base of the rocks which may have been used to sharpen the tools employed to carve the petroglyphs. A holua slide has been destroyed since it was reported in 1909.
In 1984, Palaʻau Park was returned, together with various other parcels, to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands; however, the State entered into a license agreement with DHHL for the continued use of the public park, campground and lookout.
The Kalaupapa overlook in Palaʻau State Park is a major visitor attraction. The lookout is located at the northern end of the main road. Access to the lookout is via a footpath from the paved parking lot. A series of informational exhibit panels provide a history of the Kalaupapa Peninsula and Hansen’s disease.
Ke Aupuni Lokahi Inc has been working with the state and National Park on their Ala Palaʻau project to restore native forest habitat and rare species in the area, improve views of Kalaupapa peninsula and the cliffs of the northern coast of Molokai, and provide interpretation and education of these unique natural and cultural resources.
The vision of the project is to provide a place-based learning experience where local schools, community members, and interested visitors can come to learn about Molokai’s rich biological and cultural heritage.
It is intended as a hands-on educational experience that encourages pride in Palaʻau State Park’s resources and highlights the importance of preserving Molokai’s native species and ecosystems while teaching about the role they play in Hawaiian culture. (Lots of information here is from McGregor.)