What began as an Eagle Scout project to protect native species on Mauna Kea continues to evolve and grow, just like the plants it seeks to preserve.
On Saturday, Scouts from Troop 95 of the Taishoji Soto Mission and their friends and family members met at the Mauna Kea State Park off Saddle Road. There, they worked to put the finishing touches on a new footpath through a small, fenced-in enclosure that serves as a home for 20 species of native plants, many endangered or struggling to survive in the dry conditions.
The footpath through the 33,000-square-foot enclosure is the Eagle Scout project of 17-year-old Brant Shiroma, who said he wanted to open up the area to visitors to come and learn more about Hawaii’s native plant species.
“We want people to be able to come and see them and learn about them,” he said.
His project was an ambitious one that took the help and support of many others, and yet it is just the latest step in a project that goes back about seven years, when the area was first fenced off and conservationists were allowed by the state to begin planting there.
Dylan Grantz, 19, who is currently a student at University of Hawaii at Hilo, said he took on the challenge of planting up to 20 different species in the park for his Eagle Scout project a few years ago. Other Scouts also made their own contributions through the years.
“I saw they needed help with the plants, and I figured it might as well be me,” he said.
The boys have worked on the enclosure under the guidance of environmental activist and horticulturist Mark Hanson, who also serves as the president of the nonprofit Hawaiian Reforestation Program. He also goes by another name — the Sandalwoodman. And indeed, the prized sandalwood tree is one of the many plants he and the Scouts have planted in the enclosure. Ultimately, he said, they hope to plant up to 50 in the small spot, and then spread elsewhere.
“One day, we’d like to see the whole side of the mountain replanted,” he said. “It will help conserve water, and generate more rainfall.”
Hanson and his partner, Charles Machado, work for the University of Hawaii to seek out the remaining sandalwood trees on Hawaii Island and meticulously catalogue and locate them on a map using global positioning technology.
“I’ve set a goal for myself,” Machado said. “I want to plant a million sandalwood trees. I want to bring them back. … I want my children’s great-grandchildren to be able to see them, touch them, smell them.”
As for the Scouts, they’ve already selected their own favorite plants to dote upon in the enclosure.
“I really like the weoweo,” said Grantz. “When you crush it with your fingers, it smells like fish. Bugs leave it alone because it’s poisonous to them. Really, what’s not to like about that?”
Quinn Shiroma, Brant’s twin brother, said he’s developed a special affinity for the rarest plant on the mountain — Asplenium fragile.
“There are only 100-150 left on the mountain,” he said. “It only grows in very certain conditions. It’s very rare. … Yeah, I guess I like the underdogs.”
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.