MAUI (KHNL) - Iao Valley on Maui is one of Hawaii's most visited natural attractions. Each year, three fourth's of a million people make the short trek to a view point to see the Iao needle and to soak in the sites and sounds of the rain forest.
Less visited and less known is the Hawaii Nature Center, which take Iao Valley's natural splendor to a higher level.
"A large portion of what we do with our volunteers, especially the keiki, is come out and keep this in containment," said Hawaii Nature Center Director of Operations, J.D. Wyatt.
The neighboring state park across the road and across Iao Stream attracts hundred of thousands of visitors. The Hawaii Nature Center while seeing many fewer people has an education and stewardship mission. Tours to see and learn about endemic and invasive plants and work groups of people from pre-schoolers to kapuna maintain 35 acres of trails and vegetation.
"We want to bring awareness to visitors and the folks here who love it here. About really the incredible place we're in and how fragile it is," said Maui programs manager Jay Franey. "We have some select native plants on our site."
There's always work to be done, to try and restore and preserve this small slice of paradise. "Ultimately our goal is to attack the small minds; the keiki minds that are the stewards of the future. As they become decision makers and leaders to do the right things," said Wyatt.
"In Hawaii we have a very special kuleana, responsibility to keiki to make them stewards of the environment" said Franey.
Iao Valley is famous in Hawaiian history as the site of secret burial sites for alii, or royalty, and as the place where King Kamehameha battled King Kahekili for control of Maui. In modern times it has become one of the most photographed, iconic and revered locales in the state.
"The best thing is to get kids outside and see their sense of awe. The part of my experience here that's beyond comprehension in some ways. I see kids who've never been here, until they came on our field trip and they live five miles away and see this valley everyday," said Franey.