interview: Blake McElheny
Director, North Shore Community Land Trust / United States
Blake McElheny is leading an effort to protect the pristine coastline of Oahu’s North Shore, home to one of the most famous surf breaks in the world.
The mission of the North Shore Community Land Trust (NSCLT) is to protect, steward, and enhance the natural landscapes, cultural heritage, and rural character of ahupuaa (watersheds) from Kahuku Point to Kaena.
NSCLT was founded in order to play a role in the protection of areas such as Pupukea Paumalu and Waimea Valley as well as in the planned protection of the 5-mile coastline surrounding Turtle Bay and Kawela Bay. Among other accomplishments, NSCLT successfully led the community effort to protect the 1,129 acre Pupukea Paumalu property and also implemented a successful beach right-of-way project surveying and stewarding beach accesses along the North Shore’s coastline.
NSCLT’s board members are all committed, long-term citizen leaders representing diverse interests. Most serve in key leadership positions in other areas of community life. Many of these same board members worked with their friends and neighbors to help create the NSCLT in 1997 because the community saw the need for an organization that could bring diverse people together around the cause of land protection.
After a 20-year effort and with the assistance of the Trust for Public Land and numerous others in 2007 NSCLT and the North Shore community successfully protected the 1,129 acre Pupukea Paumalu coastal bluff that overlooks some of the world's most famous surfing breaks on Oahu’s North Shore. After successfully raising over $8 million dollars for the conservation purchase and for community stewardship, community members, multiple levels of government, and supporters from around the world are now working with the new owners of the property (the State of Hawaii and the City and County of Honolulu) to implement community stewardship of its unique resources. Beyond numbers of acres protected and financial resources secured, community involvement in stewardship of properties such as Pupukea Paumalu is one of our central measures of success.
Building on the momentum created by these successes, NSCLT is heavily involved in the community planning for the protection of the 5-mile coastline surrounding Turtle Bay and Kawela Bay. Working with the Governor of the State of Hawaii, a coalition of groups including the NSCLT is coordinating a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conserve 1,300 acres of spectacular coastline as an alternative to the previously planned 5 new hotels and 3,500 additional condo, timeshare, and resort hotel rooms.
My father and I were among the founding board members at the inception of North Shore Community Land Trust (NSCLT) in 1997.
I was fortunate that my family and many members of our community were heavily involved in a variety of community and conservation issues. Growing up and seeing this passion and commitment made it natural for me to get involved.
I also saw that land trusts and voluntary land conservation were great avenues for finding “win-wins” where landowners and concerned citizens could both benefit. The notion of finding common values and mutually beneficial solutions continues to draw me to the work of voluntary land conservation and the North Shore Community Land Trust.
I have been lucky to have opportunities to work in both the public sector and with NGOs.
NGOs are a key way societies help address critical issues through cooperative action. NGOs bring out the best in people and NGOs play an important role in communicating people’s aspirations for the common good and a better world.
NSCLT’s annual budget is approximately $250,000 including significant resources for a major, on-going community planning process for the Pupukea Paumalu property.
However, NSCLT is in essence a volunteer-based organization with no full-time staff. We do have several contractors (including myself) performing tasks for the organization, but a central element of our recently completed organizational strategic plan is to take the organization to the next level by hiring full-time staff to implement the conservation mission.
There are thousands of acres along this coastline that require protection and it will take a team of full-time professionals to ensure that they are permanently conserved for the benefit of the public.
A challenge for our organization is being able to effectively communicate (through a variety of means) the complexities of resource conservation and conservation real estate transactions to a broad audience in an energizing way. It is so important for people to be fully informed so that that can become more connected, engaged, and supportive.
The dream for NSCLT is to continue to grow into a fully staffed professional land conservtion organization that can help achieve NSCLT’s vision for the North Shore. The vision is for a healthy, thriving, and united North Shore community that respects the land.
- Respect and honor for cultural traditions and practices on the land, embodied by ahupuaa-based principles that link our beaches, parks, cultural resources, agricultural areas, streams, native ecosystems, and mauka lands via a network of community relationships and activities
- A balanced and sustainable economy that preserves the rural character and landscapes of our community
- A thriving native ecosystem from makai to mauka that provides pure water, healthy habitat, a natural coastline, and a clean ocean with abundant marine life.
- An accessible landscape that features safe public pathways, recreational experiences, open spaces and outdoor community gathering areas
- A community that actively stewards and cares for key landscapes, encouraging nature-based educational programs, community learning, and an evolving understanding of our relationship with the land.
With the assistance and support of many community members and other supporters the North Shore Community Land Trust (NSCLT) and its partners led the successful effort to protect the 1,129 acre Pupukea Paumalu property for the benefit of the public. Working together as a community we accomplished what some once dismissed as an unrealistic dream. Many people coming together led to a hugely successful community fundraising effort that rallied more than $8M to support the acquisition, permanent protection, and long-term stewardship of the special property. NSCLT’s believes this particular success has enduringly strengthened the community’s collective relationship with the land and the natural environment.
- The North Shore Community Land Trust (NSCLT) is a voluntary land conservation organization that works with landowners, community groups, local government, and individuals to conserve the rural character of the communities stretching from Kaena Point to Kahuku. As a land trust, NSCLT is a charitable organization that serves the public interest by preserving land, providing information to landowners and others on voluntary land conservation, and by serving as a resource for critical efforts to protect natural resources.
- NSCLT’s work creates ongoing opportunities to safeguard and strengthen Oahu’s near shore environment, cultural heritage, famous surf breaks and world-class beaches, and quality of life by permanently protecting an ecologically significant area that is highly used and appreciated by Hawaii residents and millions of visitors each year. The North Shore’s 30-miles of coastline and over 60,000 acres of agricultural landscapes are under severe development pressure and this serves as added motivation to the community to mobilize the resources needed to protect these lands.
- People can get involved in this important work by visiting www.northshoreland.org and also by visiting the North Shore to learn more about this special region and its residents.
We have been fortunate that the local and national media has been very supportive of the voluntary land conservation movement here in Hawaii. At the same time, most land conservation initiatives are full of complexities that require careful messaging in order to simultaneously achieve accuracy and motivational value. We are confident that when more people learn of the opportunities to help conserve land for the public they will also want to get involved and help out.
People can visit our website at www.northshoreland.org to learn more and to start building a relationship with the organization and the North Shore.
The explore grant provided general operating support to further our charitable mission in our work to protect and restore special natural areas on the North Shore of Oahu through voluntary land conservation. Explore’s support also helped build NSCLT’s organizational capacity so that we have the continued ability to pursue voluntary land conservation through our work with landowners, community groups, local government, and individuals.
Definitely. The general operating support in 2008 allowed NSCLT to aggressively undertake our work to protect and restore special natural areas on the North Shore of Oahu. Explore’s support also helped our organization “think big” about both the strong support that exists for protecting the North Shore and the ability of the organization to garner the operating funds that are necessary for this work. In 2008 NSCLT supported the conservation of 1,129 acres and worked toward the conservation of an additional 2,200 acres. NSCLT looks forward to protecting even more land in 2009 and beyond for the benefit of the public.
Two things were good to see: One, it was great to see the diversity of organizations Explore came to visit – I was stoked that Explore reached out to an assortment of efforts. Two, it was cool to see the teamwork and “family” that the explore team exhibited.
Both my parents are teachers and I have always been impressed by their commitment to their professional lives helping others. In addition, my father’s perseverance and relentless focus in working on a number of community environmental issues also made a major impact on me.
We are really lucky out here on the North Shore to have Kim and Jack Johnson and their family doing awesome work for the good of this community and other places.
I also respect the work of Bob Agres of the Hawaii Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development (www.hacbed.org). HACBED works to support social, economic, and environmental justice in Hawaii through community-based economic development and they work to help strengthen the voice and actions of Hawaii's families and communities.
Bob has personally assisted many organizations and communities throughout Hawaii and I was fortunate he helped me (and many others) get a start in public service.
I really admire people who are thoughtful, conscientious, and willing to put others first. People who consider others in their thoughts and actions definitely achieve meaningful and significant things for the benefit of others. Plus, it is good to be in caring and compassionate surroundings.
The role that chance or luck plays in the opportunities that young people end up having access to is not necessarily something that can be “changed” — but I hope over time the worlds’ societies can somehow level the playing field so that more children have a better chance to survive and thrive.
Many people face daily challenges around the availability of a secure living situation, clean air and water, and safe food. Is there anything we can do to help reduce those challenges, especially for children? The more this is viewed as a shared responsibility, the better.
If I understand what the scientists are telling us, our planet is undergoing serious climate changes. The challenges above will be strongly affected by these changes.
My wife and I love Hawaii. It's where we are from and where we plan to live forever. We have adventures with our families exploring the innumerable beaches and mountains in this unique place.
In regards to a specific issue, I think the role of land trusts and voluntary land conservation in providing food security is just beginning to be understood here in Hawaii. On these small islands thousands of miles from other land masses and food sources we need to continue to explore this connection to ensure our survival.
Being able to spend time with family and friends and working with others towards common goals. Being outside during the day and being able to go surfing with my family in clean, warm water helps too!
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