Tuesday, February 6, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Group outlines scenarios for Waimea Valley park

By James Gonser
Advertiser Staff Writer

WAIMEA — About 70 North Shore residents, many of them employees of Waimea Valley Adventure Park, attended the Waimea Valley Advisory Committee meeting last night to continue work on developing a master plan for the valley.

The 1,875-acre valley has been put up for sale by owner Christian Wolffer and Honolulu is considering buying it. Three subcommittees have been discussing how the valley can continue educational and cultural programs, as well as how to protect and enhance Waimea Arboretum’s plant collections, and they presented their final reports last night.

Heidi Bornhorst, co-chairman of the botanical committee and director of the city’s botanical gardens, said the current degradation of Waimea’s gardens must be reversed and endowments sought for the park.

"It has a long historic Hawaiian use and is a sacred site," Bornhorst said. "It’s an awesome resource."

Wolffer bought the 300-acre park and 1,500 acres of undeveloped land in 1996, assuming a $12 million loan that the previous owners could not pay off. The parcel includes Waimea Valley Adventure Park, the arboretum and many Hawaiian archaeological sites.

Wolffer spent four years trying to turn a profit at Waimea, adding new attractions such as all-terrain-vehicle rides to the money-losing adventure park. Last year, he put the property up for sale, asking $25 million, far more than the $5.1 million at which city officials have assessed the property.

Councilwoman Rene Mansho said the council is expected to approve money to buy the park at its meeting Feb. 21. Once the budget is approved, Mayor Jeremy Harris is to begin negotiating the sale price.

While negotiations continue on the purchase of the park, the subcommittees have been meeting to decide the best use of the valley, which is zoned for preservation and conservation use.

The economic development committee suggested expanding activites at the gardens to generate revenue and looking into cultural events as a way to attract more people.

Manny Menendez, city economic director and chairman of the economic development committee, said the park should be self-sufficient. "It’s a work in progress," he said. "I don’t think we should ever stop thinking about what is good for the park and the community."

The cultural, historic and education committee asked that all development of non-educational themes be stopped, that the park work toward self-sufficiency, and that hula continue to be taught in the valley.

Park general manager Ray Greene has suggested that expanding the adventure ride aspect of the park would boost revenues and possibly save the jobs of a#bout 150 people.

Expansion suggestions include 120 cabins, a wedding chapel, a Hawaiian fishing village, horseback riding, kayaking, mountain biking and a cable ride up the mountainside.

Bornhorst disagrees.

"What they have been doing that is really detrimental is putting in thrill rides," she said. "They’re going through sacred cultural sites and valuable plant collections without getting conservation permits."

Bornhorst said customers for thrill rides may visit that type of park once and then want the next big thrill.

"People who like plants — and gardening is the most popular hobby in America — will come from throughout the world to see the tropical plants," she said. "People have paid to see the gardens for many years and keep coming back."

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