Office of Mauna Kea Management protects and preserves the mountain

“Maunakea is the astonishing mountain that stands in the calm” is an ‘olele no‘eau or wise saying that expresses the sentiment that Maunakea is a source of awe and inspiration. Maunakea is a recognized Hawaiian cultural site. It is a storied place of cultural, spiritual and archaeological significance where appropriate and respectful behavior are expected. —Maunakea Heritage and Natural Resources Guide

Cinder cones on barren landscape.
Pu‘u cinder cones on Maunakea

Maunakea is covered with physical expressions of its cultural significance, be it shrines, ahu, or burials, and protecting and preserving these sites are major components of the mission of the Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM). OMKM is tasked by the University of Hawai‘i with managing approximately 12,000 acres including the summit area, access road and mid-level parcel at Halepōhaku.

The first step to preservation involved the identification of the resources. In 2006, OMKM embarked on an ambitious five-year program to inventory the entire 11,288-acre Maunakea Science Reserve. The survey culminated in the development of a Cultural Resources Management Plan that was approved by the State Board of Land and Natural Resources in 2010.

Significant findings

A total of 263 sites were identified in the survey. Most of the sites found were shrines. Experts speculate the adze quarry, located in the adjacent Maunakea Ice Age Natural Area Reserve, was in use about 500 to 700 years, and the complex of adze quarries and workshops comprised the next most common sites. The Mauna Kea Adze Quarry is a National Historic Landmark and is under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

The survey identified burials or possible burials most of which are located in remote areas in the Science Reserve. Other site types include markers/memorials, temporary shelters and a camp occupied by the 1926 USGS survey party.

The archaeological survey also included test excavations at two sites to determine the presence or absence of cultural deposits. Radiocarbon dating from a single piece of charcoal in the Pohakuloa Gulch area produced a date of 1420-1480 AD.

The data collected contributes to a greater understanding of the cultural significance of Maunakea. The large number and scattering of sites provide evidence of the presence, activities and uses associated with Maunakea. DLNR’s commissioned archaeological survey of the adze quarry combined with the OMKM survey provide a view into the past of the various routes and corridors used to and from the quarry. Data supports the theory that the adze makers were from different parts of the island and used different routes to get there.

Upright rock formations on the mountain.
Upright shrines on Maunakea.
Protecting, preserving and enhancing

Burial Treatment Plans are normally done in the context of development. While development is not OMKM’s role, it formulated and implemented a Burial Treatment Plan as one of its management responsibilities.

The development of the Burial Treatment Plan was done in consultation with Kahu Ku Mauna, the native Hawaiian council that advises OMKM, and the Hawai‘i Island Burial Council. The plan which calls for preserving in place all known burials was approved by the State of Hawaii Historic Preservation Division (SHPD).

In 2012, OMKM initiated a long term monitoring program of all the archaeological sites found on UH’s managed lands. The program is a five-year cycle with sites close to roads and human activity monitored annually, and the more remote sites assessed every three or five years. This program was formalized in 2014 when SHPD approved OMKM’s Long Term Historic Property Monitoring Plan.

OMKM was recently honored with a Historic Preservation Award from Historic Hawaii Foundation, citing “the preparation of this plan and implementation of regular, annual monitoring without a statutory requirement demonstrates the Office of Maunakea Management’s commitment to stewardship and best practices in cultural resource understanding, protection and preservation. We congratulate you on your exemplary preservation efforts.”

OMKM was also honored by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce’s Pualu Award for Culture and Heritage for its long term monitoring plan.

While much has been done, there is still much left to do. As the Office of Mauna Kea Management continues to move forward to preserve and protect the cultural resources on Maunakea, it continues to be guided by Kahu Ku Mauna. It is hopeful that OMKM’s actions and deeds will lead to a better understanding of stewardship efforts to achieve balance, harmony and trust on Maunakea.

About the Office of Mauna Kea Management

The Office of Maunakea Management is charged with day-to-day management of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve as prescribed in the Master Plan. The adoption of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan by the UH Board of Regents in June 2000 marked a critical milestone in the management of Maunakea. The office reports directly to the Office of the Chancellor at UH Hilo. The UH Hilo chancellor established the Office of Maunakea Management and the Board of Regents established the Maunakea Management Board in the fall of 2000. The Maunakea Management Board in turn formed Kahu Ku Mauna, a council comprised of Hawaiian cultural resource persons to serve as advisors.

The mission of the office is to achieve harmony, balance and trust in the sustainable management and stewardship of Mauna Kea Science Reserve through community involvement and programs that protect, preserve and enhance the natural, cultural and recreational resources of Maunakea while providing a world-class center dedicated to education, research and astronomy.