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Maui Resident Receives National Sierra Club Award

SAN FRANCISCO – A long-time environmental activist from Maui will be among those receiving national awards from the Sierra Club this year.

Mary Evanson of Makawao will be the first recipient of the One Club Award, a new award created by the Sierra Club to recognize people who use outings as a way of protecting public lands and instilling an interest in conservation. The award includes a $1,000 prize funded by Sierra Club member Dr. Joseph Barbosa of Minnesota. The award will be officially announced at the Sierra Club Annual Meeting in San Francisco Sept. 24.

Evanson has spearheaded dozens of successful conservation campaigns on Maui over the past 20 years through organizing hikes, service trips, educational forums and tours of threatened areas. She also has held numerous leadership positions in the Sierra Club, including Maui Group Chair, Maui Group Outings Chair, Maui Group Service Outings Chair, Maui Group Conservation Chair, and Maui delegate to Hawaii Chapter Executive Committee.

"All these activities reflect Evanson’s mission in life: to get people out to see places firsthand," said Lucienne deNaie, the Hawaii Chapter member who nominated Evanson for the One Club award.

Evanson has previously received numerous awards for her work, including Outstanding Volunteer at Haleakala National Park, the Circle of Women Award and the Senior Volunteer Award from the County of Maui, Conservationist of the Year Award from the Maui Group of the Sierra Club, and the Ohia Award from the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club. In 1995 the Maui News named her one of its "People who made a difference in 1995."

A lifelong hiker, Evanson was born in Honolulu and raised in rural O’ahu. She moved to Maui in the late 1970s after raising four children and a career as a teacher. She became a Sierra Club member, activist and hike leader shortly after settling in to her new island home.

Evanson’s first conservation battle found her helping the remote Hawaiian village of Ke’anae where local taro growers’ water supply was threatened by a proposed hydroelectric project planned for Wailuku Iki stream, lifeblood of the community’s taro farms. Evanson worked with local community leaders and helped educate local policymakers. The project was subsequently shelved.

The list of Evanson’s conservation accomplishments in Maui is legion. She helped in efforts to preserve Kealia wetlands as a National Wildlife Sanctuary. She also helped turn back plans for an underwater amusement park along sensitive shoreline reefs and stop the exploitation of one of Maui’s last wild streams. Evanson lobbied state authorities to set policies for controlling invasive, imported grazing animals and guarantee public access to historic and cultural sites. She has been a long-time advocate for preservation of Hawaii’s rainforests and their unique plant and bird life.

Evanson also was instrumental in organizing a summer-long series of educational hikes to Maui’s little-known watershed areas. This was the first opportunity for most participants to understand the complex web of life that creates a healthy watershed. This series is very popular and has been repeated many times over the past 10 years.

When education and persuasion were not enough to save a treasured site, Evanson has joined with others in legal challenges.

In 1996 a Maui county park plan included an unneeded road through an area known for rare geologic features. Evanson took planners for site visits, gathered support and filed suit. The county backed down and deleted the road.

Evanson has been a key player in the current struggle over expansion of Maui’s airport to allow 747s and other international flights. Evanson and other activists fear that expansion and international flights will introduce alien pests that will destroy the countless species of native plants, birds and insects that live in nearby Haleakala National Park.

Evanson has organized Sierra Club Service Outings to Haleakala National Park for 20 years and in 1997 founded the Friends of Haleakala National Park. She currently serves as the group’s chair.

Since the Friends group formed, the park (one of the nation’s 10 most visited national parks and Maui’s top natural tourist attraction) has seen its boundaries expand for the first time in nearly 20 years. Fifteen hundred acres of pristine East Maui rainforest rich with cultural sites and biological flora and fauna were added to the park in 1999, along with a lovely coastal preserve adjacent to the park’s popular ’Oheo Gulch campground. More acquisitions are planned for the next few years, and Evanson continues to organize support letters, field visits and service outings to the new park lands as well as writing articles and sponsoring public meetings.

Evanson and other Friends of Haleakala members have recently voiced support for native Hawaiian leaders concerned about a proliferation of telecommunication towers proposed along a pristine volcanic trail just outside the National Park boundaries.

One of Evanson’s greatest dreams still remains unrealized. In the late 1980s, as a Sierra Club board member, she helped form a coalition called SPAM (State Park @ Makena). This coalition was fighting an out-of-control resort boom along Maui’s broad south shore beaches. The coalition’s plan was to encourage the state to implement its Makena-LaPerouse State Park Plan. This was a visionary idea for a wilderness park along the rugged south Maui coastline from Pu’uola’i, Makena, nine miles down the undeveloped shore. The plan included the lava coves south of La Perouse Bay (a legendary site to ancient Hawaiians and famous today for its whales and dolphins).

After years of lobbying and fundraising, the state purchased one small portion of this nine-mile stretch and created Makena State Park, commonly known as "Big Beach." Evanson is urging state officials to reactivate the vision and implement the entire nine-mile Makena-LaPerouse State Park.

The Maui Group of the Sierra Club will use the $1,000 from Evanson’s award to create educational materials to support Evanson and other SPAM activists.

The Sierra Club, which was founded in 1892 by John Muir, is the country’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. It currently has nearly 600,000 members. For more information on the Maui Group and its activities, call (808) 573-3454.

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