Botanist ousted at Waimea Falls Park
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By Yasmin Anwar
Advertiser Staff Writer
The director of Waimea Falls Park's world-class botanical garden was removed from his job and escorted from the property by two police officers yesterday after the park's general manager said he was no longer welcome at the financially troubled North Shore tourist attraction.
David Orr's expulsion came three days after Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee John Waihe'e IV took a tour of the park's neglected botanical sites with the Stewards of Waimea Valley community group. Orr has worked on the park grounds since 1988.
Waihe'e is lobbying for OHA to buy the 1,875-acre Waimea Valley preserve, which was put up for sale last August.
Park General Manager Ray Greene would not elaborate on why he ordered Orr and Waimea Valley steward Ralph Bard off the property yesterday, except to say "they are not working in the best interests of Waimea Falls Park."
Orr said he suspects Greene is angry with him for inadvertently allowing Waihe'e to see two buckets of plant labels that symbolize the park's alleged neglect of botanical species. The buckets were kept at the arboretum's education center and Orr said the park management has taken issue with their display.
The signs on the buckets read: "This bucket represents once-identified plants that all died for lack of care and will never be seen again" and "once-identified plants that all died for lack of monitoring as the remaining gardeners are spread so thin."
"I did not remove those buckets before John Waihe'e got to see them, and they were worried about the publicity," said Orr, who is employed by the nonprofit Waimea Botanical Foundation that oversees the park's plant collection.
Orr said he was summoned to Greene's office early yesterday and told he was no longer welcome at the park. Two Honolulu police officers appeared and escorted Orr to his office, where he packed his belongings. The officers followed him as he drove off the property.
Yesterday, Waihe'e said he regrets if his tour caused any trouble to Orr. He said he interpreted the signs on the buckets as cries for help from the park's botanical staff.
"That's really disheartening," he said of Orr's expulsion.
Orr took over as director of the arboretum overseeing the botanical collection after Keith Woolliams resigned in 1998.
Orr said he would prefer to go back to his job without seeking court action. However, Bard said the board of the directors of the Waimea Botanical Foundation may have no choice but to take legal action to protect the plant collection.
The arboretum grows about 6,000 kinds of plants, 150 to 200 of them threatened or endangered. About half of those are endangered Hawaiian plants, including a large collection of rare Hawaiian food plants, such as unusual varieties of taro.
It is also singlehandedly responsible for the Moloka'i red cotton, Kokia cookei, which grows only when grafted onto the roots of related plants.
Members of Hawai'i's botanical community yesterday said Orr's ouster does not bode well for the area's endangered native Hawaiian plants, among other species.
"I think it's terrible that they have excluded David Orr from this collection," said David Lorence, senior research botanist at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kaua'i. "He's an excellent plantsman and horticulturalist and meticulous with his records."
Lorence said Waimea Valley is considered a treasure among botanists, a home to plants that exist nowhere else. He recalls contributing species to Waimea's Mascarene garden when he was in the Peace Corps.
Orr's expulsion is the latest in a series of travails at Waimea Falls Park.
New York investor Christian Wolffer rescued the park from near-bankruptcy in October 1996.
Despite adding such theme park attractions as an all-terrain vehicle ride, he was unable to revive the visitor count, which has declined by 30 percent since the late 1980s. Besides OHA, the city of Honolulu has expressed an interest in the property. Officials of Sea World toured the park last week.
At one time, the arboretum had a grounds staff of more than 20 and scientific/management staff of seven. Aside from Orr, the collection today is maintained by one full-time employee and three part-timers.