A community service project on Kaho‘olawe turned into a renewed appreciation for the Hawaiian culture and the value of giving back. That’s what Kevin Gavagan of the Four Seasons Wailea said happened to some 35 hotel employees and their families when they volunteered to plant trees on Kaho‘olawe. “We went to give and we got so much back, Kaho‘olawe enriched us,” said Gavagan, a Native Hawaiian employed as the assistant director of engineering at the Four Seasons. Gavagan spearheaded the volunteer effort, leading two separate trips to Kaho‘olawe toward the end of last year. Employees gave up their vacation time for a four-day journey that featured two full days of tree planting, an island tour and lessons on Hawaiian history. Their employer, the Four Seasons, picked up the access fees to the island, priced at $125 per person. In honor of the hotel chain’s 50th anniversary, Four Seasons set a goal to plant 10 million trees around the world. The Four Seasons at Wailea kicked off their contribution to the goal by planting some 250 trees on the hotel property on Earth Day in April of last year. Gavagan followed that up by coordinating the tree-planting project on Kaho‘olawe.
There is archaeological evidence that Kaho‘olawe, the smallest of four islands in Maui County, was occupied by Native Hawaiians since 1000 A.D. It was taken over by the U.S. military after the outbreak of World War II and used as a bombing range for more than 40 years. After a $400 million cleanup of unexploded ordinance of the island, it was returned to the state of Hawaii in 2003. Now, the island is overseen by the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission. There are plans to do more tree planting in 2012. Gavagan said his views of Kaho‘olawe have changed his visits. “You get a completely different appreciation for the island when you step foot on it,” he said. “It really was a transformation for me and got me closer to Hawaiian traditions. Everybody wants to know when they can go back,” Gavagan said.