On Dec. 5, the Maui Weekly ran a historical perspective celebrating Haleakala Ranch Company's 125th anniversary. The article left the reader with the impression that the company's activities have always benefited the public. However, as it is the case with history, there is always a lot more to tell, as explained through just a few historical facts I summarize here.
While the article offered interesting history regarding Sam and H.A. Baldwin, it failed to mention that the company was founded 125 years ago by, among others, Lorrin A. Thurston, best known as one of the key leaders in the overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani and the Hawaiian monarchy, as you can read in the great book published last year, "Lost Kingdom: Hawai'i's Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America's First Imperial Adventure," by Julia Flynn Siler.
Thurston was also well known as a savvy businessman, and his role in the founding of the company is no exception. In addition to acquiring excellent land for Maui's burgeoning cattle industry, he locked up most of Haleakala Crater, Maui's primary tourist attraction at the time, and secured all the land surrounding Haleakala Trail.
The Maui Weekly article also did not mention the very relevant ongoing lawsuit regarding ownership of the historic Haleakala Trail--a public trail that existed centuries before the company was ever around--that now runs through the company's property at the top of Olinda Road. Until 1935, when Crater Road was opened, Haleakala Trail was the primary, if not exclusive route, to Haleakala Crater, widely traveled by thousands of tourists and local residents alike.
In 2011, after Public Access Trails Hawai'i's other efforts to secure public access to Haleakala Trail failed, PATH and some concerned individuals initiated a lawsuit that was certified by the local state court as a class action brought on behalf of the people of Hawai'i. Importantly, the State of Hawai'i has joined in PATH's lawsuit against the company, giving yet greater credence to PATH's position that Haleakala Trail is and has always been owned by the public.
Additionally, while the article informs the reader that the company was incorporated in 1888, it fails to mention what also occurred prior to its incorporation. In August 1888, Thurston, as the powerful minister of the interior, and H.P. Baldwin (H.A. Baldwin's father and an elected representative in the Kingdom of Hawai'i legislature) were instrumental in securing a significant government appropriation for the improvement of Haleakala Trail. Legislators in support of this appropriation argued that improvement of Haleakala Trail would be for the public benefit.
Finally, the article leaves the impression that Haleakala Ranch Company is a local ranching outfit that also serves as the home to a number of ecotourism activities. While it is true the company still owns and manages land on Maui, the company has also invested tens of millions of dollars in commercial real estate on the Mainland. There's nothing wrong with that. But let's present an accurate description of the company. It's primarily a diversified commercial real estate investment company, not a local ranching and ecotourism company.
In sum, any historical account of Haleakala Ranch Co. needs to address not only the public relations material that the company wants circulated, but also real history, including how the company in the last decade has decided to obstruct the public from accessing the historic Haleakala Trail--an ancient and historical trail that existed long before the Haleakala Ranch was even incorporated in 1888. When Haleakala Trail is again open to the public, it will truly be of great benefit to the Maui community.
David Henderson Brown is one of the original founders of the Maui Chapter of the Hawai'i Sierra Club, a longtime member of the Na Ala Hele Advisory Council for Maui and the founder and current president of the nonprofit Public Access Trails Hawai'i. He is also a named plaintiff in the lawsuit against Haleakala Ranch Co.