Jennie Martinez Peterson was working on this article when
she passed away suddenly in August (see "A Hui Hou” article).
Did you know The Outdoor Circle helped start the Hawai‘i Nature Center?
The Outdoor Circle was instrumental in starting The Hawai‘i Nature Center, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in June 2021. Since its inception, the center, nestled next to the stream in Makiki Valley, has been serving Hawai‘i’s school children and the community, giving visitors access to over 20 miles of Tantalus trails.
In 1972, The Outdoor Circle’s Parks Committee, chaired by Margaret Kidwell, submitted a proposal to the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks for an environmental education center in Makiki Valley. Margaret Smith Young, an active, long-time Tantalus resident and Outdoor Circle member, was asked by the Makiki Community Association to chair a committee to begin a plan for the valley. She went on to become the primary founder of the new education center.
When federal funds became available for a “people’s park” in 1970, under the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, the Hawai‘i State legislature set aside matching funds, and 2,000 acres were designated as the Makiki–Tantalus State Recreation Area. The nearby communities of Makiki and Kewalo met federal requirements that the park and new trails be located near densely populated areas.
Led by Margaret Smith Young’s efforts, it took 9 more years of TOC, community and government planning before the nature center was realized. Heated discussions ensued in the effort to juggle the interests of valley residents and state and government officials including the Department of Land and Natural Resources-Urban Forestry, DLNR State Parks, Makiki Nursery, and Hawaiian residents living in Maunalaha, a sub-valley of Makiki.
In June of 1981, the Makiki Environmental Education Center began in a corrugated iron warehouse which it shared with the DLNR State Parks. Faith Roelofs, a University of Hawai‘i botany graduate student was the first Director.
In 1986, the name was changed to the Hawai‘i Nature Center (HNC). In order to reach as many students as possible, outreach field sites were developed at Westloch Shoreline Park, Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a State Park, Waimanalo Beach Park, and in 1991, a center was opened in ‘Iao Valley on Maui.
After nearly 40 years of dedication by volunteers, staff, board members and funders, HNC has achieved maturity, receiving local and national recognition for its efforts. From the 2,000 students served the first year, over a million children and adults have been benefitted from the Hawaii Nature Center’s hands-on, place-based, environmental education programs. The dream lives on!
Compiled from Notes by Jennie Martinez Peterson, Former Outdoor Circle Board Member & Former Environmental Education Program Manager, Curriculum Specialist, and Natural Historian at the Hawai‘i Nature Center
Greenleaf is the online newsletter and blog of The Outdoor Circle. Here you will find updates on the projects and accomplishments of our many branches throughout the state, as well as programs with statewide impact.