Hawai‘i Nature Center scales back operation

Financial pressures, including the decline of cruise ships visits to Maui, have led The Hawai’i Nature Center in Iao Valley to close its interactive museum and gift shop.

Although the museum and shop closed more than a year ago, the center continues to offer educational programs to schoolchildren, hikes and other activities, including sleepovers and birthday parties on the site, just above Kepaniwai Park, officials said Wednesday.

“We just weren’t able to keep it open,” said Pauline Kawamata, the center’s volunteer program manager in a phone call from Oahu, where the center’s main offices are located.

The museum and gift shop closed in January 2012 because “the visitors weren’t coming,” Kawamata said.

As a small nonprofit, she said that it “just had to downsize.” The center in Iao Valley had been operating seven days a week, but today it only has part-time workers, another effect of the tight financial times, she added.

According to its website, the Hawai’i Nature Center, which has locations on Oahu and Maui, depends on program fees and contributions from the public, corporations, foundations and occasionally the state. The center has a membership program where funds received support children’s programs; members receive a newsletter and advance notices and discounts on activities such as hikes, classes and nature adventures, the website said.

Nature center officials estimated that the museum and gift shop on Maui had been open since at least the mid-’90s.

Asked if the facilities could reopen if money were found, Kawamata said probably not in the near future because the organization would rather put its funds into its education programs, which are thriving. Education Program Manager Jamie Nakama said sometimes schoolchildren are at the center participating in programs five days a week.

“We are really going strong with our education programs,” she added.

The programs are geared toward preschool to 6th-grade students, although the center has some speciality programs for middle- and high-schoolers, she said. There also are service learning activities where students go out and maintain Native Hawaiian plants.

The center runs a wetland program for students at Kealia Pond in Kihei, she added.

For the general public, hikes led by the center officials may be arranged.

For more information on programs, contact Nakama on Oahu at (808) 955-0100, ext. 123. Hawai’i Nature Center is on Facebook, and its website is www.hawaiinaturecenter.org.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.