Making Kauai Even More Beautiful

As president of the Kauai chapter of the oldest environmental group in Hawaii — The Outdoor Circle — Maureen Murphy seeks to preserve and create natural beauty on the island

Billboards advertising anything from real estate to restaurants line every Mainland highway. Yet these flashy beacons haven’t been seen in Hawaii since the early 1900s, thanks to the diligent members of the environmental organization The Outdoor Circle (TOC).

“At the time, Honolulu was covered in billboards — signs were all over Diamond Head,” says Maureen Murphy, president of TOC’s Kauai branch.

The group dates to 1912, with women wanting to beautify Honolulu. After visiting cities such as Paris and Munich, the ladies thought Honolulu could be more environmentally enhanced, so they began a grassroots movement to eradicate obtrusive signage from the state’s largest city. Though it took more than a decade to finalize, they eventually achieved success and strict sign ordinances were passed in all counties. Aerial and campaign signs are just a few of the many regulations that exist to this day because of the continued advocacy of TOC volunteers like Murphy.

TOC is the oldest statewide environmental organization and is dedicated to keeping the Islands clean, green and beautiful.

“What you see environmentally is what we protect,” says Murphy.

The Kauai chapter formed in the mid-1970s, at which time members initiated the island’s first recycling program. Volunteers also have made an impact throughout the years with projects such as an anti-littering campaign and planting hundreds of trees across the island. Overall, TOC has planted more than 1 million trees around the state.

Local members also help prune and maintain trees in beach parks in coordination with Kauai County Parks and Recreation. Caring for trees, in fact, is a primary focus of TOC. Educational programs are offered regularly, where members learn proper maintenance techniques for trees, and TOC is a regular participant in the annual Arbor Day event, which distributes more than 2,000 trees statewide each year.

Trees and plants are such a vital part of the ecosystem, and Murphy is committed to making sure they not only provide the island with oxygen and proper nutrients, but that they look aesthetically pleasing as well.

“They’re beautiful,” says Murphy. “There’s a lot of gratification in nurturing plants and taking care of them and making them prettier.”

Murphy, a California native, has loved plants ever since she inherited her father’s while attending college at California Polytechnic State University. At the time, she had no idea how to properly care for them, leaving them without enough sunshine and too much water.

“Based on everything I know now, they should not have grown,” she says.

But they did, and that’s when she realized she was gifted with a green thumb.

“When they started to grow, something started to grow in me,” she says.

Before graduating with a degree in ornamental horticulture, Murphy was selected for an internship at National Tropical Botanical Garden, where she fell in love with the Islands. After college, she was fortunate enough to acquire a management position at a protea flower farm in Kula, Maui, where she embarked on her horticultural career.

Aside from leaving Hawaii in 1984 to attend graduate school at the University of Delaware with a focus on botanical garden management, her roots have been firmly planted in the Islands for decades. Murphy spent some time on Kauai working for NTBG, and also moved to Oahu after graduate school to become director of landscaping at Hilton Hawaiian Village. She also lived on Hawaii island for nearly a decade, where she started her own business, Horticultural Consultants International.

“And then it was time to come home,” she says about her return to the Garden Isle.

Her involvement with TOC began in 1980 and she has held her current leadership position since 2006.

“It’s an organization I strongly believe in, and it’s one of the ways I give back to my community,” she explains.

She encourages others to get involved, not only by becoming a TOC member (for a mere fee of $25 a year), but also by contacting the appropriate parties (state or county departments) when they see trees cut down unnecessarily or come across illegally displayed signage.

“Get involved. Be a giver, not a taker,” she says. “The more the merrier.”

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