Categorized | Business, Featured

Forest & Trail celebrates 20th anniversary by giving back

Roya Sabri | Hawaii 24/7 Reporter

For 20 years, Hawaii Forest & Trail (F&T) has led groups through Hawaii’s awe-inspiring nature. The company is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a series of special tours that occur every one to two months through April 2014.

On May 16, the first adventure took guests to the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge to look for rare and endangered plants and animals.

Hakalau forest adventure (Photo courtesy of Hawaii Forest & Trail)

Hakalau forest adventure (Photo courtesy of Hawaii Forest & Trail)

Rob Pacheco, owner and president of F&T noted three things that make these tours special: they trek to new trails; they invite Hawaii natural resources celebrities; and they partner with local conservation and education-based non-profits through the e hoomaluo — conserve our natural resources — program.

Clyde Imada, Bishop Museum botany research specialist, and Molly Hagemann, Bishop Museum Vertebrate Collection Manager, joined the May 16 hike through Hakalau.

The celebrities “tell stories and give in-depth, specialized responses to questions,” Pacheco said.

Upcoming adventures are:

* Aug. 17, 2013 Echoes of Kamehameha: explore the legacy of King Kamehameha the Great in his homeland, North Kohala

* October, 2013 Spooks, Hoots & Feathers: learn about Hawaii’s native birds and what is being done to save them before a nighttime zipline adventure

* November, 2013 Eruptions of Hualalai: hike through one of Hawaii’s most storied landscapes, Hualalai

These special adventures run about the same price as regular guided nature adventures and proceeds go to partner non-profits.

The partner beneficiaries include Bishop Museum, The Kohala Center, Hawaii Wildlife Center, North Kohala Community Resource Center, Hawaii Public Radio and Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative.

The 20th anniversary tours reinforce Pacheco’s gift for giving. More than 20 years with F&T, Pacheco’s vision has remained sharing his passion for natural history with others and helping conserve Hawaii’s endangered environment through education.

“A connection to nature is vital to a whole and healthy life,” Pacheco said.

The tours can leave profound impressions on visitors, particularly for those who return again and again. Pacheco said F&T’s market research has found that first time guests look for “trophy experiences” — a swim under a waterfall or a view off a cliff.

They don’t normally come for an interpretive experience — one that leaves a meaningful and unclichéd memory.

But they get more than a trophy from their experience. Guests gain connections to the guides, F&T and Hawaii, Pacheco said.

One of the biggest reactions Pacheco has witnessed was on a tour he designed for a support group of people who had lost spouses to cancer. The theme was transformation.

As the group passed a bend, the view opened to a waterfall. At that point, Pacheco noticed the woman behind him had stopped.

“She was trembling,” he said.

She said she was grateful that the death of her loved-one had brought her there. That moment was a testament to the healing power of nature, Pacheco said.

Pacheco identifies his “naturalist guides” as a major reason for the success of the tours. When he first started, he would hire people for their knowledge. But he soon realized the knowledge is easily taught; “a passion for Hawaii is not.”

Guides are trained at an interpretive level. This training has seven steps. Driving and logistics are part of it, but the heart of the training is communication. Pacheco teaches the guides how to give accurate and relevant information, how to build relationships with guests and how to build relationships among the guests.

“There’s a large body of science about interpretive craft and it’s growing. The guides are constantly being trained. That’s another thing we look for in employees: excitement for forming a broader and deeper knowledge base and craft.”

In the next 20 years, Pacheco sees himself retired and passing the company to new leadership. Until then, he hopes F&T will continue to grow in quantity and quality.

F&T remains one of the few Big Island tour companies with access to private lands and wildlife refuges. Its extensive network with private landowners has felicitous and humble origins.

Pacheco’s first connected with a rancher. They became close friends with the discovery that they both have Portuguese last names. This led to a relationship with Kamehameha Schools, which gave F&T credibility with other landowners.

Since then, F&T has garnered recognition as 1998 Big Island Entrepreneurs of the year, 2006 Ecotour operation of the year, West Hawaii Today’s Best Guided Outdoor Activity three consecutive years,’s Favorite Hawaii Island Activity Company, Hawaii Magazine’s second best Land Activity/Adventure Tour Company and more.

The company recently caught Google’s attention. F&T has partnered with the Silicon Valley-based corporation to capture panoramic views of 20 of Hawaii’s public trails. F&T is the first third party to use Google’s Trekker equipment.

Rob Pacheco wears Google Trekker while overlooking Pololu Valley. (Photo courtesy of Hawaii Forest & Trail)

Rob Pacheco wears Google Trekker while overlooking Pololu Valley. (Photo courtesy of Hawaii Forest & Trail)

The Trekker backpack will create images of Hawaii’s trails similar to those found on Google Street View. The blue head’s 15 cameras take 75 mega-pixel images every 2.5 seconds. Each image is tagged with GPS data.

Pacheco said the panoramic images can act as “another tool to inspire people and to ignite their imaginations.” He said the images can trigger memories for visitors who have joined F&T in the past.

More importantly, he sees the potential for the images to plant a seed in any Internet user anywhere in the world.

“The tool can create incremental movement toward getting people out wherever they are,” Pacheco said.

Pacheco and his crew will roam 50 miles of tails starting in August or September. The first trails should be available on Google in the spring of 2014.

Pacheco said he’s been privileged to be in Hawaii for two decades. “There’s no better place on the planet to share nature.”

— Learn more:

— Make a reservation:




Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Become a fan on facebook


%d bloggers like this: