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Nature trail in the Shadow of Mauna Kea is Educational & Family-Friendly

by Thunda

(HILO) – In a steady rain you hear the chorus of native Hawaiian birds. Jackson Bauer, with the DLNR Na Ala Hele Trails and Access Program, identifies the sing-song chirp of the ‘ōma’o and then the ‘elepaio, calling its own name. Such are the sounds of the native forest along the new Kaulana Manu Nature Trail on Hawai‘i island. Add in the natural beauty of ‘ōhi‘a and koa trees, and an intact profusion of native plants, shrubs and insects  — one even known as the happy-face spider — and it lives up to its billing as a nature lovers paradise. 

The less than one-mile-long loop trail winds through a section of forest at the 5,500-foot elevation. On a clear day Mauna Kea fills the view to the north from a viewing platform mid-way along the trail. The trail’s beginning, with tiny painted footsteps on the pavement, is one of the first signs, that this is a fun and educational place for all ages.  

In the planning for 15 years, in addition to the trail and interpretive features, there’s a new comfort station and parking lot. Bauer explains that birders have long visited and explored this area. He said, “This trail isn’t really just for birds. In Hawai‘i our megafauna (large animals) are birds because large mammals didn’t evolve in the islands. Coming on this trail you see pretty much 100% native forest with common trees like, ‘ōhi‘a, koa, ‘ōlapa, and everything in between; ground ferns and a few beautiful, endangered plants and insects.” 

The trail has a total of nine big interpretive panels and 25 small plant identification signs. On a rainy day, hearing the cacophony of birds and learning about the ancient kia manu or po‘e hahai manu, Hawaiian bird catchers, you might wonder if this is the sort of day where you would see them using their long, specialized poles to collect colorful bird feathers for implements and royal cloaks. The “bird fishers” panel is sure to spark keiki and adult imaginations. Another display asks what visitors can do to protect precious and sensitive forests. By the time you’ve reach this panel you naturally would have used the boot cleaning station at the trailhead to prevent the introduction of Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death in this area. This is an experience that demands you enjoy nature and makes you think about how we interact with and impact our natural environment. 

In a short walk, and in as much time as one cares to devote, visitors will learn a lot about the flora, fauna, and threats to this and other native forest. Bauer noted, “Rain and drizzle are pretty typical here and the birds actually love that. We are in the presence of Laka (a goddess of the forest) and this mist is her lei hoaka adorning the trees. On a sunny day you might not hear too many birds, though you might be a drier hiker.” 

The trail is at 21 mile-marker on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway 200 (Saddle Road). The State Legislature provided $1 million to construct the comfort station and parking lot. Today a kīpaepae was held: a ceremony that signifies the opening of a new path to travel—in this case the new Kaulana Manu Nature Trail. 

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