Planting it Forward

Hawaii Legacy Tours Youth Tree Planting
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Planting it Forward With Hawaii Legacy Reforestation Initiative

This fall, more than two dozen Hawaii Island youth trekked up the slopes of Mauna Kea to plant hundreds of koa seedlings. They are the latest in a long line of environmental stewards who are taking part in an ongoing demonstration of social ecological responsibility. In just six years, hundreds of businesses and tens of thousands of individuals have helped plant more than 350,000 endemic koa, sandalwood and other native trees in the state’s only Hawaiian Legacy Forest.

Spearheaded by the nonprofit Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative, HLRI is using the power of people to help reach their goal of planting 1.3 million trees—one for each man, woman and child in the state of Hawaii.

Several thousand feet above sea level lies a historic site which was once a pristine endemic forest and the personal property of King Kamehameha the Great. Sadly, this land was cleared nearly a century ago to make room for farming and ranching. Working together with environmentally conscious landowners and caring individuals, this special place is once again a thriving ecosystem covering nearly 1,000 acres.

Although she lives nearly 3,700 miles away in Dallas, Christine Johnson is no stranger to Hawaii. Over the years, she has logged more than 45 trips to the islands and has driven nearly every backroad in the state. But the Legacy Forest was a new discovery for her. She learned about the reforestation project through Earl Regidor, manager of the Hawaiian Cultural Center at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on Hawaii Island, and booked a tree planting excursion with Earl through Hawaiian Legacy Tours.

Christine, who had originally sponsored 100 trees, was so moved by the experience that she decided to leave a legacy of a 1,000-tree Family Forest. A week before her visit, a group of youth from the Hawaii Parks and Recreation Program Pilikulaiwi planted many of the seedlings for Christine. Pilikulaiwi educates youth in the natural environment through exploration and recreation. “Their help in fulfilling this wonderful wish of mine allowed me to visualize the future forest,” Christine said. “I thank them for doing it, and hope that over the years we can all take pride in watching our trees grow.”

“Pilikulaiwi, which means ‘building a relationship with the homeland,’ focuses on teaching students ages 10-18 years old sustainable and respectful methods to utilize and preserve Hawaii’s natural resources,” said Kevin Nekoba, a program coordinator with Pilikulaiwi. “We are getting these kids into nature, they are smiling, they are chanting. You talk about koa, how it grows curly, how long it takes to grow, and you can see their minds working.”

For Christine, dedicating her Legacy Trees to Hawaii Island becomes a meaningful way of saying “thank you” to Hawaii Island for the Aloha she has experienced throughout her visits. “When I looked around and saw where these kids had planted the trees, that is what was in my heart,” she said. “What greater gift could I give?”

For more on the Legacy Forest or to plant a Legacy Tree or Family Forest, visit or learn more about Hawaiian Legacy Tours.