Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris today announced the selection of the National Audubon Society to operate Waimea Falls Park under a 30-year lease agreement with the city. The city bought the 1,800-acre North Shore park for only $5 million from its bankrupt owner, and has been seeking a new caretaker ever since. The Audubon Society proposal, unveiled late last year, had earned the support of dozens of local and state-wide nonprofit groups, as well as several North Shore businesses and hundreds of residents.
“We are very pleased to announce this long-term partnership with the National Audubon Society,” Harris said. “Waimea Falls Park will be the first Audubon Center in Hawai`i and will be an addition to the 78 community-based Audubon Centers already in operation or under development across the country.”
The society will begin operating the park which includes 35 distinct gardens that are home to rare and endangered plants, a bird sanctuary, and Hawaiian historic sites on June 26.
The Audubon Society has already secured $1 million from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation as an initial operating endowment for the park, and anticipate raising another $250,000 in private funds during the first year of operation. They are also committed to pursuing other public funding.
Revenue will also be generated from admission fees that could range from $2 for school groups to $8 for non-resident adults.
In an editorial published last month in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, a group of community leaders endorsed the Audubon plan “to move Waimea from a primarily entertainment-focused experience to one that emphasizes meaningful education about the valley’s inspiring cultural and environmental assets.”
The authors noted the society brings money into the communities in which it works, having raised more than $75 million in capital campaigns for Audubon Centers around the country during the past six years.
The Audubon Society plan for the park includes an Institute of Cultural Learning that would offer workshops and courses covering traditional and modern Hawaiian topics, and steering committees focusing on cultural resources, the park’s botanical collection, and conservation and ecological restoration of the uncultivated portions of the valley.
“The Society has nearly seven decades of experience in connecting people with nature,” Harris said. “Under their stewardship, Waimea Falls Park will be able to achieve its full potential as a place of learning, conservation and recreation.”
In its heyday, Waimea Falls Park was among the most popular attractions on O`ahu. Even then, however, it struggled to make a profit. New York investor Christian Wolffer bought it in 1996, but after prompting controversy a few years later in an attempt to sell the property as a private residence for $25 million, he declared bankruptcy in April 2001. The city moved for condemnation soon afterward.