Keeping Kauai, Kauai
THE SIERRA CLUB WORKS TIRELESSLY TO SAVE THE BEAUTY OF KAUAI WHILE ALSO LEADING THE WAY FOR PEOPLE TO GET OUT AND EXPERIENCE THAT BEAUTY FOR THEMSELVES
Ironwood trees dot the Kapaa coastline, providing relief from the hot morning sun. They outline a decades-old natural shoreline path that Sierra Club Kauai Group members Rayne Regush, Greg Peters and Judy Dalton are attempting to preserve.
“Every day there are fishermen and moms with keiki here,” says Regush of the beach nestled against the tree-lined pathway. “Monk seals are known to haul out here.
The stand of trees provides an important buffer.”
It’s a buffer currently threatened by development. Upon second glance, it’s clear that the environment in the area already has undergone some “reconstructive surgery.” Clippings of beach heliotrope and native naupaka are scattered through the area, and red dots mark tree stumps. “With such a small island, it’s critical that we maintain compatible development standards with the surrounding landscape,” says Peters.
The eco-trio also is concerned about what impact sea level rising, climate changes, and the increasing number and intensity of storms might have on any development constructed without enough distance from the shoreline. While they understand development won’t stop, they at least hope for more conservative setbacks.
Environmental advocacy like this is a big part of the Sierra Club’s mission. The nonprofit is about much more than hikes and beach cleanups. The nationwide organization, founded in 1892 by legendary conservationist John Muir, takes leadership in environmental policy and education. The Kauai Group operates under the Hawaii Chapter umbrella and serves as the island’s environmental watchdog, maintaining the Garden Isle’s one-of-a-kind beauty and natural resources. The local organization started in the mid-1970s and currently has 450 active members, with nine on the executive committee including Dalton, Regush and Peters.
“Nature always has been a really strong influence for me,” says Regush.
She became involved in 2004 after a neighbor started grubbing and grading a nearby hillside. She checked the proper permitting process for such work and discovered they didn’t have one. “That was the trigger, and I think that’s the trigger for a lot of people. If it’s in your backyard, you care passionately about it,” she says.
Peters, who has a background in land conservation and environmental policy, is one of the group’s newest members, joining about three years ago. He also was involved with the Sierra Club in Vermont and Massachusetts before moving to the island. He enjoys being a “steward of the Earth” and is excited to have an opportunity to keep turning his passion for the environment into advocacy. “So that we can actually protect, preserve and enforce the natural resources that we have here on the island,” he says.
Currently, Peters is engaged in the review process for the proposed dairy farm in Mahaulepu Valley. He wants to ensure every possible negative consequence, like the close proximity of effluent to water sources, is investigated, and meaningful mitigations taken.
Sierra Club Kauai Group has had several of what they deem successes over the years, such as pushing development back along Kuna Bay (also known as Donkey Beach). Homes were slated to be constructed along the rim, but members of Sierra Club Kauai Group were able to set them back so that they couldn’t be seen from the shoreline. “It felt great that finally we were able to have a win against development,” says Dalton, adding that more often than not shorelines are developed with minimal environmental protection.
Advocacy aside, members of the group also like to share their enthusiasm for the natural landscape with others. Dalton, who has been with the organization 20 years, is the outings chairwoman and leads hikes on various island trails. Leading groups along gorgeous shorelines and among tropical forests is part of what she loves most about her involvement with Sierra Club. Peters also heads hikes and shares the same sentiments. He especially likes how the journeys include a mix of kamaaina and visitors.
“You can book a trip to Hawaii,” he says. “You can come here and experience your slice of paradise for however long you choose. But physically immersing yourself in the environmental and cultural landscapes, and learning the importance of what you’re seeing and what you’re stepping through is powerful. It’s an impact that resonates with me when people experience the grandeur of this island whether it’s the first time or whether or not they’ve lived here their entire lives.”
The Kauai Group plans to continue hosting outings like this on a regular basis as well as beach cleanups. They also plan to persist in efforts to keep the island as green as possible, including protecting access to historical trails and suggesting that the County General Plan Update give more value to the importance of trees and shade.
“It’s just very meaningful work,” says Regush. “We want to keep Kauai, Kauai.”
Visit sierraclubkauai.org for more information.