HA’ENA — Limahuli Garden’s parking lot has been full of construction vehicles instead of visitor traffic for the past year.
But, workers and volunteers at the garden are making headway on completing major infrastructure improvements so they’re ready to open the gates on June 13, the same day of the expected opening of Kuhio Highway, Ha’ena and Napali state parks, and the start of the North Shore Shuttle.
Part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, Limahuli is a place to learn not only about unique and rare plants, but also about culture and see it being restored firsthand.
The garden is home to plants not only endemic to Kauai, but specifically to Limahuli Valley — some that NTBG president Chipper Wichman has discovered himself.
Walking through the garden on Wednesday, Wichman pointed those plants out, and also the work that’s been done to rehabilitate ditches, culverts, roadways and buildings from the 2018 storms throughout the entire garden.
“None of our structures were damaged during the rain bomb,” Wichman said, pointing out later that the February windstorm did damage their garage structure. “All the damage happened with drainage (systems).”
The rehabilitation and fortification project’s total cost is still being evaluated, but it’s coming in at more than $1 million. Work at Limahuli actually had to come to a pause early this year because they had to conserve funds.
It’s not that the garden was out of money, it’s that they were dedicated to keeping the entire staff on through the whole year — while managing a dip in revenue from a lack of visitors and a major repairs bill.
“We had to manage our resources. Our commitment to the employees at Limahuli was that we were going to keep all of you on,” Wichman said. “Seventy percent of our budget here is covered by visitor program revenue. So now, suddenly we had no revenue, we wanna keep everybody employed and we had to complete our repairs.”
After the flood, donations totaled $300,000, but that wasn’t enough to float the whole project. Foundations donated $400,000. Federal Emergency Management Agency put $10,000 toward repairs.
November brought a $92,000 award to Limahuli from County of Kauai, facilitating Act 12 money — a move made by $100 million from the state in total to for flood recovery on the North Shore.
January brought a halt to recovery efforts at Limahuli, until Wichman teamed up with Senate President Ron Kouchi, Rep. Nadine Nakamura and Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami’s administration and secured another $382,000 for recovery at Limahuli in March.
Workers and volunteers shifted back into full swing; pouring concrete roadways, recreating the walking paths through the endemic plants and rebuilding structures that the wind ripped apart during the February high winds.
“They’re calling that a dry hurricane now,” Wichma said. “You know, though, through all of it (the 2018/2019 storms), we didn’t lose a single plant from our living collection.”
Some buildings still need to be finished, some concrete needs to be poured and a few final details need to be settled — but a walk through Limahuli even with needed improvements unfinished is educational.
One of the new features of the garden is a stone pathway that leads to the river’s edge. Once a place where tour guides would stop and tell the history of the valley, the overlook was inundated with boulders during the floods.
Those boulders are now part of the stone pathway that follows the exact pattern of the floodwaters, providing a terraced place to sit and listen to the stream and a visual for talks about the historic flood.
“It memorializes what happened here,” Wichman said. “It was a massive geological event.”
Once Limahuli Garden opens, a small parking lot will still welcome visitors but you’ll have to make reservations to snag a parking spot.
A ticket on the North Shore Shuttle will bring you right to their front entrance, where they’re working on a waiting area.
It’s part of the overall overhaul of Ha’ena, with parking restrictions at the statepark and encouragement to use the shuttle for travel to see places like Ke’e Beach, Limahuli Garden and access the Kalalau Trail.
Source: The Garden Island