In celebration of national parks – honoring our cultural diversity (part 3).

In summer of 2016, the AIR Adventures team headed west – farther west than even our home base of California – to explore the rugged beauty of the island state of Hawaii. More specifically, our destination was the island of Maui and the famed national park of Haleakalā, renowned for its mysterious, otherworldly landscapes and the diverse array of plants and wildlife found nowhere else on the planet.

Beyond its value to our ecosystem, through, Haleakalā is also of great cultural significance, as it has been considered a sacred place for native Hawaiians for over 1,000 years.

In previous posts, we have reviewed the environmental and historical value of our national park system. This latest entry focuses on their cultural value – and Haleakalā, whose name literally means ‘House of the Sun’ – is a prime example of the significance of our parks in honoring our nation’s rich cultural heritage.

The summit of Haleakalā is considered a wahi para – a legendary place – with most of the legends centering around the demigod Maui. According to myth, it was at the summit of Haleakalā where Maui snared the sun – so that his mother could better dry her cloth. Apart from being a birthplace of myth and legend, the summit and crater of Haleakalā figure prominently into Hawaiian ceremony and tradition, and is a place where generations of Hawaiians have journeyed for religious ceremonies and to pay homage to the departed.

The AIR Adventures team ventured to the summit of this national treasure on two separate occasions: Our first excursion was a bike ride from the coast at Paia, up some 30+ miles to the very top at 10,000 feet. Along the way, we were humbled by breathtaking 360 degree views of the Maui coast and countryside. See our ride here!

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The AIR Adventures team at the summit – after a long climb from sea level!

Our second venture to the summit was a hike through the ‘crater’ of the volcano – which was one of the most memorable hikes we have ever done. The combination of the fog-enshrouded trails; bizarre rock formations; and barren landscape devoid of all plant life save a few patches of the alien-looking (and highly endangered) silversword made us feel like we had somehow been transported through space and time to Mars. It was both unnerving and awe-inspiring. Nevertheless, despite its seemingly unforgiving appearance, the volcanic valley is home to numerous endangered wildlife – including the endemic Hawaiian petrol or u’au’ and the Hawaiian goose or nēnē – of which we were fortunate to see several during our trek through the crater! For a hint of what our 13 mile hike looked like, check out our route here.

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Inside the otherworldly ‘crater’ of Haleakala – which is actually a large volcanic valley that formed when the headwalls of two separate erosional valleys merged at the summit.

Of course, it must be noted that Haleakalā is but one of many examples of the ways in which our National Park System protects and honors the rich cultural heritage of our nation. As described on its official website: the NPS maintains the National Register of Historic Places, which lists over 1.5 million historic sites, buildings, and structures, in almost every community – of which over 20,000 are in National Parks. Moreover, ‘the NPS joins with local, State, and private entities to promote the cultural, historical and natural assets of about 50 National Heritage Areas that provide economic stimuli to their regions and communities.’

For so many reasons, our national parks are one of our greatest assets as a nation – and yet they are under attack by our current administration. The current budget proposal would slash funding to the Department of the Interior – which includes the National Park Service – by roughly 11 percent. The NPS estimates that this – combined with the continual record-breaking numbers the parks see in annual attendance – would be unsustainable, and could lead to the closure of several parks.

We need everyday citizens to take action now, to protect our national treasures. Call your state representative and ask them to oppose these cuts today.

Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? Then visit the website of our sister organization, the Alliance for International Reforestation, and learn more about what you can do to protect natural resources around the globe, for generations to come.

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