We recently had a few minutes to kill on the way to Kihei, so I decided to check out why there is a sign off the Mokulele Highway that mentions the Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, since the boardwalk is over on the way to Ma’alaea. Our short detour leads to a parking lot next to a building, but there was only one car in the lot. I took a chance and ran to the building and it turns out to be the Visitor Center and Headquarters for the refuge. The whole exhibit is free and open to the public. Its pretty small, but there are a couple of interactives for little kids (microscopes and open/close panels on exhibits), and interesting information about the wildlife at the Kealia Pond for adults. They had stickers for the kids, but if you ask, you may be able to get tattoos and coloring books as well! (These may be saved for the school groups that come through- we just happened to be neighbors with one of the park rangers).
I’ll be the first to admit – I had NO idea that this place existed, but this building opened while I was in full baby mode/canceled my newspaper subscription. We’ve been to the boardwalk several times, but as we were told at the Visitor Center, there are actually more birds near this building. I only got a couple pictures since we were on our way somewhere else, but we’ll have to go back again and get a closer look at the birds now that we know what we are looking for!
Construction of the 7,500 square-foot building of the complex headquarters and visitor center was supported by a $4.9 million grant as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The facility includes a 1,358-square foot lobby and exhibit hall, 1,043-square foot multipurpose room, eight offices, a small conference room, and other workrooms. The energy-efficient building meets Silver LEED standards, one of only a few such projects in Hawaii.
Notes from the Fish and Wildlife Service website:
HOURS: Mondays to Fridays (excluding Federal holidays), 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
The refuge biologist conducts bird censuses one to two times per month (usually the 1st and 3rd Thursdays). On these days, walking trails do not open until after 9:00 a.m. In addition, areas may be closed for access during Hawaiian coot and Hawaiian stilt nesting seasons to eliminate human disturbances.
DIRECTIONS: Located on the south-central coast of Maui, the refuge is accessible from all directions. The entrance road to the refuge, located at milepost 6 on Mokulele Highway (Highway 311), is almost one mile north of the town of Kihei.
Visitor access is along the Kanuimanu Ponds’ levees which are flat and easy walking, and though a little bumpy, also accommodate wheelchairs.
HISTORY: These ponds were constructed in 1970 for an aquaculture venture (catfish) which ended in 1995. In 2005, the Fish and Wildlife restored the ponds that are now managed for waterbirds and visitor access.
Established in 1992, Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge encompasses approximately 700 acres and is one of the few natural wetlands remaining in the Hawaiian Islands. Located along the south-central coast of the island of Maui, between the towns of Kīhei and Mā‘alaea, it is a natural basin for a 56-square mile watershed from the West Maui Mountains.
The Keālia Coastal Boardwalk is a beautiful tranquil walkway and bird sanctuary, beside Maalaea Bay on the south edge of Maui’s central valley. A walk on the boardwalk takes you through ancient wetlands where you can watch two of Hawaii’s native and endangered waterbirds – the Hawaiian coot and Hawaiian stilt. Across the highway you can see Keālia Pond where waterfowl from Asia and North America come for rest and warmer climate, including northern shoveler and northern pintail. The Pacific golden plover migrates from Alaska, and other birds that come for the winter are the wandering tattler and ruddy turnstone.