hawaiiCreativecommons.org/ Family O'Abé

Hawaiian Legacy Tours (HLT), has been named the “2014 Ecotour Operator of the Year” by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association (HEA).

The award, presented at HEA’s annual meeting recently, honours Hawaiian Legacy Tours, a first-of-its-kind eco-tour that allows guests to help in the creation of the only Legacy Forest in the world.

The award is among three presented each year by HEA for excellence in ecotourism, including Ecotour Guide of the Year and Travel Writer of the Year, recognizing Hawaii ecotourism operators who demonstrate, through their business, a commitment to environmental stewardship, cultural sensitivity, community enhancement, and educational content.

“This award represents the efforts of more than 340 charities, 60 Legacy Partners, and thousands of individual tree sponsors who have helped make the Hawaiian Legacy Forest a reality. These partners are the driving force here and have been the key to its success. HLT was launched less than one year ago, and we are so pleased at the warm response these tours have received,” said Jeff Dunster, CEO of HLT.

HLT guests have a hands-on opportunity unlike any other. They can learn about the area’s culture, history and the importance of environmental stewardship; and how effectively communities can come together to solve problems that are too big for any one of us to solve alone.

HLH LLC, a sustainable reforestation company, along with its nonprofit arm, the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI), have planted more than 250,000 endemic koa, sandalwood and other rare and endangered Hawaiian species across more than 750 acres above the historic Umikoa Village on the slopes of Mauna Kea in the past 4 ½ years. This site was once a koa forest and the personal property of King Kamehameha I, the first king of Hawaii. Now, less than 10 percent of these old-growth forests are still in existence. HLH and HLRI plan to plant 1.3 million endemic trees statewide, returning the endemic forest to Hawaii.

Hawaiian Legacy Tours provide guests with a unique opportunity to tour this forest, plant their own Koa Legacy Tree, and track its growth online for years to come. Every tree is equipped with a proprietary RFID geo-tagging system that provides ongoing growth, maintenance, genealogy, and carbon sequestration data. This technology allows each Legacy Tree sponsor to track their tree over time using applications such as Google Earth, where they can see their tree from space. The tree will even store information about that person or event, creating a living monument. This innovation has made the Hawaiian Legacy Forest the most intricately mapped forest in the world.