Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightIt’s no secret that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers terrific access to spectacular volcanic landscapes, but the Big Island of Hawaii’s top visitor attraction is also home to some of the Aloha State’s most pristine native rain forest, providing travelers access to a collection of plants and birds you won’t find anywhere else on the planet.

Work to protect the park’s fragile ecosystem from invasive species is ongoing, and frequently a daunting struggle, but one of Hawaii Volcanoes’ volunteer programs, called Stewardship at the Summit, has managed to restore more than five acres of native Hawaiian rain forest since its start last year. And while the organizers have cultivated a solid group of regulars from the Big Island community, they could always use more help.

Open to the public, and headed up by volunteers Paul and Jane Field, Stewardship at the Summit holds a weekly work session from 9 a.m. to noon (click here for upcoming dates). Folks interested in lending a hand need only check in at the park’s Kilauea Visitor Center, dressed in long-sleeve shirts, long pants and closed-toed shoes with some snacks and water for the morning.ShaneNelson

“People can literally just show up, and we’ll send them down the trail to where Jane and Paul are to get started,” explained Kupono McDaniel, the volunteer coordinator for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. “Basically, people are given a pair of loppers and gloves, and they chop stalks of invasive Himalayan ginger.”

Kupono described the introduced plant as “incredibly vigorous,” adding that the ginger will surround native trees and once established “just squeeze out other species.” If the ginger is removed, he explained, and its extensive root system dug up, “we see native plants just sprout right out, so their seeds are just sitting there waiting for an opportunity.”

For guests staying at the recently reopened Volcano House, it’s just a matter of walking across the street from the hotel to the visitor center to join the rewarding morning activity. Folks staying near the National Park in the community of Volcano, at the popular Kilauea Lodge perhaps, wouldn’t need to drive any more than 10 minutes to join the work sessions.

And working alongside Big Island residents is a terrific way for travelers to gain a much more authentic perspective about the destination.

“It is a great way to connect with the locals,” McDaniel said. “Everybody is always chatting and talking about what is interesting at the moment. There’s definitely some rich conversation about Hawaii.”

Agents interested in setting up a specific work day in the park’s forest for families or small groups should contact Elizabeth Fien, the education and outreach coordinator for Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A nonprofit headquartered near the Kilauea Visitor Center, the organization is happy to arrange reforestation sessions, which include projects like cutting down and digging up Himalayan ginger but also collecting seeds from native trees and replanting saplings.

“It’s something we love to do,” Fien said, adding that a couple months of lead time is ideal but she can arrange things in less. “And I’m more than willing to coordinate those types of efforts, [and] if they want to give a donation, great. If they don’t want to give a donation, that’s OK too.”

The only cost for folks wanting to help with volunteer work at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the entrance fee: $10 per vehicle and good for seven days.

Fien said she can also arrange education activities, involving time in the park with a volcanologist or botanist, that can be combined with volunteer work sessions. There is a fee for the time with the experts, but it’s certainly a reasonable rate, given other activity costs on the island, and a great value for a half day at one of the state’s most in-demand attractions guided by a private expert.

“It’s a flat fee,” Fien said. “For a group under eight, it’s $200 for four hours, and for six hours it’s $300.”

For more about Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, visit, and call (808) 987-3703 to contact Fien directly.
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