The last weekend in August, as we all know, was the big one—the one we’ve been gearing up for all year, and one of the many reasons that all us CVAs were sent into the parks in the first place: The 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS)! Friday, there were celebrations all over the country, from living arrowheads to intricate cookie-cakes, to intern-made, park-themed props for visitors to pose with.

Needless to say, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park was in on the celebrations, with fee-free days beginning Thursday, the park’s own BioBlitz on Saturday, and a huge culmination in the park’s 36th annual Cultural Festival that same day! Whew!

The turnout was remarkable, with a whopping 1969 passengers driving up the sweeping slopes of the volcano, past the lighted sign that announced the big event, and onward to the festival grounds on the right hip of the Kīlauea Visitor Center. As a result, the BioBlitz’s field inventories, not to mention the festival itself, were packed full of people, both residents and island visitors. We even had a crew of Samoan firefighters join in on their way back from the mainland (they missed their own on Friday), adding even more energy to the event.

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I could only participate in a couple of the inventories, but Hawai‘i has so many unique ecosystems that each one was thrilling as it introduced endemic species found nowhere else on earth! After all, Hawai‘i biological landscape is even more uniquely evolved than even the Galapagos islands, and while it hosts no native amphibians (no, the coqui frogs are not native), snakes, or large land predators, it sports an impressive array of unusual birds and bugs.

The rainforests and sub alpine regions of the park are known for their honeycreepers—small, colorful birds who have each adapted specialized beaks for the flowers on the island, much like the Galapagos finches (but cooler, because they started with two and branched into over 100 species!!)IMG_1228.jpg

The park has just as varied a population of insect life, including one of its hallmark creatures, the Hawaiian Happy Face spider, whose delicate, translucent and almost glowing green body really does appear to sport a happy face—dark spots for eyes, a wide and red smiling mouth below—on its abdomen. And during the Meet the Beetles entomology drop-in lab, I met another unusual creature of Hawai‘i: The carnivorous caterpillar. Who knew there was such a thing? I’m still not sure how to feel about it…but at least it helps keep Hawai’i’s fly population down, I suppose.

And let’s not forget about Hawai’i’s state bird, and one and only endemic goose: the Nēnē!

The BioBlitz segment of the day went from 8:30 am until around 1, while the Cultural Festival started around 10 am and didn’t end until 3 pm. As a result, many of the participants in the BioBlitz simply homed back in to the visitor center and joined in the festivities once their biology extravaganza was over. And the festival certainly had an almost magnetic draw: Hawaiian music performed by artists including the notable Kenneth Makuakane drifted across the scene, adding a happy bounce to all the already-upbeat activities, and the smell of traditional foods like poke (a raw, marinated fish), non-traditionals from local cafes, and yes, a hotdog stand, wafted from right at the front of the large cluster of tents. Talk about a welcome.

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Past the hotdog stand the festival was an organized labyrinth of white tents, each with something distinct and new to offer. From the wildlife conservation tents, which featured informational panels, wildlife games and coloring for the keiki (children), to booths for learning lei-making or basket weaving. There was no shortage of activities to choose from, and many visitors stayed all day just trying to get to everything.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is a nucleus of balance between culture, geology and biology; it’s almost the mantra of the park that those three things exist in a constant balance. The volcanoes, themselves, are a perfect model of that idea. Geological forces shape the landscape and hold her sway; the creatures inhabiting the space adapt and conform; the people here connect spiritually to both, honoring the volcano goddess Pele in all her magnificent forms. As a National Park, we strive to celebrate that balance and preserve all its aspects, including the necessary balance between peoples. Hawai’i’s volcanoes are sacred grounds to its native populace, and visitors are encouraged to be mindful and respectful when visiting the park, open to learning and experiencing a new culture.

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The cultural festival this weekend was a lively embodiment of all those ideals as it hosted a mix of people from all over the world, all participating in Hawaiian culture with open minds. The connections between people were palpable, enhanced by the spirit of aloha from the island’s residents, and the excitement and energy brought by the visitors (not least of which were the Samoans, who were welcomed with open arms and brought yet another culture in with them!)

So the National Park Service, and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, head into their next century of stewardship, appreciation and balance. Our mission is to preserve and protect natural spaces, historical landmarks, and all the magnificent biology, geology and culture of our richly diverse country. If we continue forward with all the welcoming spirits and open-minded enthusiasm I witnessed at the cultural festival this weekend, then we’re off to an incredible 100 years.

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