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Want to build a forest in Hawaii? Travelers can help restore native trees that once covered much of the islands

Want to build a forest in Hawaii? Travelers can help restore native trees that once covered much of the islands
Two visitors to Gunstock Ranch on Oahu plant Monarch Milo trees. The ranch hopes to reforest 500 acres with native trees, including the milo. (Jeremy Hanks)

Far from the forest of skyscrapers in Waikiki, a ranch on Oahu gives visitors an opportunity to help reestablish the island’s forests of native trees.

Gunstock Ranch, a working cattle ranch on the North Shore, invites visitors to plant “legacy trees” during their time on the island. The ranch adds this activity to its other attractions, such as horseback riding and off-road tours.

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Gunstock’s new forest, which is expected to one day span 500 acres and include 600,000 trees, is part of the nonprofit Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative. It is the first project of its kind on the state’s most populous island.

Off-road tours are one of the visitor attractions at Gunstock Ranch, a working cattle farm on Oahu's North Shore.
Off-road tours are one of the visitor attractions at Gunstock Ranch, a working cattle farm on Oahu's North Shore. (Gunstock Ranch)

Visitors on one of four tours will be able to plant young Monarch Milo trees, which are native to Hawaii and known for their showy yellow flowers. The tree’s wood has been used to make everything from bowls to musical instruments.

The milo tree, the wood of which is used to make various products, is known for its bright yellow flowers.
The milo tree, the wood of which is used to make various products, is known for its bright yellow flowers. (Gunstock Ranch)

Tours cost $129 to $289 per person, which includes a tree planting. The ranch is located near the town of Laie, about 35 miles northeast of Waikiki.

In addition to the new Oahu tree plantings, Hawaii Legacy Tours offers a similar experience on the Island of Hawaii.

Tour guide Bobby Bethea stands beside a gnarled, old-growth koa tree during a tour of Kukaiau Ranch on the island of Hawaii.
Tour guide Bobby Bethea stands beside a gnarled, old-growth koa tree during a tour of Kukaiau Ranch on the island of Hawaii. (Jay Jones)

The legacy forest at Kukaiau Ranch along the Hamakua Coast spans more than 1,200 acres of what used to be pasture. The endemic trees being planted include the protected koa, which has been prized for its wood for centuries.

Prices start at $140 per person for two-hour tours.

Hawaii Legacy Tours also plans to introduce its tree-planting program at Kahua Ranch near the inland town of Waimea. That project expects to see 700 acres returned to native forest.

Thanks to technology, visitors can go online to track the growth of trees they have planted at the Big Island and Oahu locations.

A paniolo (the Hawaiian word for cowboy) surveys grazing land at Gunstock Ranch near the village of Laie on Oahu.
A paniolo (the Hawaiian word for cowboy) surveys grazing land at Gunstock Ranch near the village of Laie on Oahu. (Melanie Ruth)

Reforestation groups hope to eventually plant a total of 1.3 million native trees. Beyond koa and milo, the species include hau, kukui and sandalwood.

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