800 Trees Planted On Haleakala, 10 Acres At A Time: B On Hawaii Publisher Digs, Plants And Absorbs Maui Mana

800 Trees Planted On Haleakala, 10 Acres At A Time: B On Hawaii Publisher Digs, Plants And Absorbs Maui Mana

At 7:30 a.m. on a particularly dewy Saturday morning, I found myself making small talk with 30 other early risers that spotted the parking lot that fronts the Ulupalakua Ranch Store. One hand clutching a cup of Grandma's coffee (from the bakery, not my mom's mom's French press), I made the rounds, asking people how they arrived at the doorstep of the adventure that lay ahead that mid-December morn.

One participant, a chef from an upscale Kihei eatery (whose accent pegged him as announced to a few of us that he had tried to get some friends to join in today's effort, but tequila shots the night before were too great an allure to keep them from turning in early. A timid Japanese girl who couldn't have weighed more than 100 lbs. snuck by me, signing a release form and nodding at a few faces she deemed familiar. Clearly she had been here before.

I knew none of the 30 people milling about an upcountry parking lot that morning. But by early afternoon I would have made at the very least eye contact with every one of them, sharing a multitude of emotions and beliefs, sometimes without uttering a word.

The group I was surrounded by were eager participants of the Maui Reforestation Group, and it's lead coordinator is Art Mederios. Since 2000, Art has led groups from 20 to 100 up the slopes of Haleakala to strip the volcanic hillside of African long grass and plant native trees and plants; ten acres at a time.

"The 44,000 or so acres between Makawao and Kaupu -- which you could once walk through completely covered by the shade of trees -- belongs to 12 land owners," explains Mederios. "Conceptually, all of them are onboard with the project."

Mederios' reforestation "project" is open to anyone willing to give a Saturday to restoring Maui's original landscape by planting and sowing as many native species as attainable. They include a'ali'i, holei, kolea, a'e, maile, ala'a, hala'pepe, ulei, aeia and koa, to name a few. Before this day was out, the 31 of us would plant more than 800 such trees on a 20 acre parcel of craggy volcano side, nearly ten miles deep in to private land behind the ranch.

"People on the mainland are just starting to turn to Hawaii for these types of experience," said Jay Talwar, senior vice president of marketing, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau. "They know that Hawaii's culture can't be found anywhere but in Hawaii."

The morning and early afternoon were spent getting acquainted with a device called an o'o -- Hawaiian for "hole digger." On a lucky pull it would remove a clean cylinder of earth from the ground, where I would mark for a "planter". Someone would come, put a plant in the ground and cover it with the removed soil. I would move 3 feet. Repeat. 800 seedlings and many, many hours later, we had reforested a swath of hillside with entirely native species. We were blasted by sunshine. At one point we were swallowed by a creepy, slow moving mist. We were rained upon. The winds, at times, nearly bowled me over. But the planting continued.

At lunch, we each found a grassy spot outside the fenced area and conversed. It was during this time that I learned perhaps the second most important experience of the afternoon. Maui is brimming with do-gooders. More so than any other island. They are everywhere, and they are varied. Some had science backgrounds that ranged from environmental studies to marine biology; others were surfers, mechanics, college students and hiking guides. It spanned the spectrum. But everyone was there for the betterment of Maui County.

"Hawaii has a huge number of repeat visitors," said Talwar. "Someone who has been to Maui 9 times is likely to include Maui as a part of who they are at home. This type of visitor would be very inclined to participate in a cleanup effort or restorative experience on Maui."

And participate they do. From endangered sea turtle rescue groups, to roadside clean-ups, taro farming efforts and humpback whale education, Mauians and those who frequent the isle are very likely to participate in some organization that keeps Maui... Maui.

Back on Haleakala, I took a walk with Erica Von Allmen, another leader of the restoration project, to see Auwahi I -- another swath of land a few yards away that was planted 5 years prior, when the initiative first began. Just beyond the cattle fencing all the invasive specie were gone. The ground was a navigable swath of rich dirt and volcanic rock. A few steps in to the 10-acre plot I was in a thick forest of 6 to 20 foot trees, the same varieties that I had been planting (in seedling form) all morning. Maile branches tangled with a'ali'i leaves. Kolea limbs danced in the wind next to a hala'pepe.

"We weren't kidding when I said we have a 90% success rate with these plantings," Von Allmen said. I could barely see her 4 feet away, she was blocked by no less than 3 different plants. "And soon, these trees will attract native birds and other species back to this land. It's endless."

To get involved with reforestation or like efforts on Maui, contact Erica Bon Allmen at (808) 264-5830 or Friends of Haleakala at (808) 248-7660.

Since 2000, Art Mederios has led groups from 20 to 100 up the slopes of Haleakala to strip the volcanic hillside of African long grass and plant native trees and plants; ten acres at a time.