Get Kids Outside and Involved in Nature During the Pandemic

Get Kids Outside and Involved in Nature During the Pandemic

Nature-deficit disorder combined with stay-at-home orders is the perfect storm for parents. We know now more than ever how important it is for our children to get outside and away from the screens, but the pandemic has created new wrinkles with this.

Rather than dwell on the impossibilities, it’s time to get creative with the options available to your family. When you think outside the box a bit, you can unearth a wealth of outdoor opportunities that will help your children engage with nature.

Start with the Backyard

It’s likely the backyard will be your main source for outdoor activities, so you want to have a variety of options to keep things interesting.

19 Backyard Games for Beating Boredom

Learn About Local Vegetation: Backyard Tree Identification Guide 6 Tips for Stargazing in Your Own Backyard

Get Kids Outside and Involved in Nature During the Pandemic

The Home-Based Safari Guide: How to Safely Observe Wildlife from Your Home
 Gardening with Kids: 10 Simple and Amazing Steps

How to Plant a Butterfly Garden with Your Child
6 Mind-Blowing Backyard Science Experiments for Kids

Look to Nearby Parks That Are Open
Check to see which parks are open where you can safely hike or bike trails. If there are nearby lakes, find out if you can fish.

How to Plan the Perfect Picnic: Your Kid Friendly Survival Guide
ABCs of Bike Safety During the Quarantine
4 Tips When Mountain Biking with Your Child
Frequently Asked Questions for Hiking During the Covid-19 Pandemic

How to Fish Safely During COVID-19

Get Extra Creative

You always want to have a few extra activities up your sleeve for down the road.

Experience a Live Butterfly Kit
Learn About All the Different Insects in Your Neighborhood How to Have a Family Scavenger Hunt
Nature Journaling with Kids
How to Build Firefly Habitat

The only way to beat the indoor boredom blues without screens is to get outside, but you need to have engaging activities to keep kids interested and occupied. Plus, with all of these different activities, you could lay the foundation for your kiddos to become true nature enthusiasts.
Image Courtesy of Unsplash

Get Kids Outside and Involved in Nature During the Pandemic

Whale Watching

It's the season.

Going deep: Company aims to rid isle gulches of trash

Steve Vujnovich, owner of Trail Rhythms, guides rappelling eco tours in Paauilo’s Kalopa Gulch regularly. In 2016, he found more than 1,000 pounds of trash in the gulch. Earlier this month he reached a breaking point.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Zambeck, Paradise Perspectives

On July 3, he discovered a Nissan four-door sedan 65 feet down the gulch, along with the usual trash. “Somebody rolled the car into the gulch, with gas, oils and radiation fluid leaking. I knew these would eventually seep into the seasonal stream and then into the ocean on the Hamakua Coast so it concerned me,” he said. Even the keys were still in the car, so he called the Honokaa Police Station and filled out a report.

“I spoke with Officer Joseph Passmore the day I found the car,” Vujnovich said. “He and several other offices came out that afternoon. Then they traced the VIN number which showed the car hadn’t been stolen. The owner left Hawaii in 2015 but didn’t transfer the ownership to anybody. I don’t know why they can’t track the car to their driver’s license and charge the owner with criminal littering.”

The police told him they couldn’t remove it from the gulch, so he next contacted the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) for help. Vujnovich said the department informed him it was out of their jurisdiction. He was also told he needed liability insurance if he were to take on the project. Having lived on Hawaii Island for 17 years, he saw a need for this type of project and felt he had a new mission.

In June, Vujnovich paid for the insurance and became the only single pitch instructor for American Mountain Guides Association on the island. He also formed Trail Rhythms, LLC as a platform from which he could develop a new program centered on cleaning out gulches islandwide.

To move the program forward, last week he called Honokaa Police Station Capt. Andrew Burian. “I talked to him, told him what was going on and he gave me the go ahead,” Vujnovich said. “He approved having the police there while we shut down the road to pull the car out.” Next, Vujnovich devised a plan how he and employees from his other company, Total Painting & Remodel, could pull the car out of the gulch. “They repelled down into the gulch with me,” he said. Big equipment was also needed.

“At the last minute I got a call from fellow resident Gary DeRego from DeRego’s Services who offered his heavy equipment and team to pull the car out for nothing,” Vujnovich said. They worked together for more than three hours Tuesday afternoon, while he climbed down the gulch, attached a chain around the car’s axle and helped guide it up the hill. David Francis, a DeRego’s employee, worked alongside Vujnovich. During one attempt, the car slid back down the steep hillside. “It’s a typical day,” he said.

“They also charge you to give them a car for $75-$100 a ton,” Carvalho said. “They stopped paying for the scrap metal about two years ago. I guess the Asian countries don’t want to buy any scrap metal anymore.” Hunters’ cameras have now been installed at the gulch to prevent people from dumping there.

Steve Vujnovich finds a pig carcass among other trash in the gultch

“I’ve realized this is my calling. My goal is to launch a pilot program, document trash found and set an example to help owners be responsible,” Vujnovich said. “I want to promote islandwide gulches awareness.” The program, called Big Island Gulch and Waterways Eco, is “an evolution in process,” he said. “I’m learning more and more about what the program needs,” Vujnovich remarked. “Over the past few months we’ve found everything from pig carcasses to 25 plus gallons of motor oil and tractor parts in the gulch.”

He continued, “Through the waterways the trash makes its way to the reefs, which coincides with all of our reef projects and Surfrider Foundation. I want to educate people on how reachable gulches and underpasses are, how they’re being used as trash dumps and how they can be part of an organized team. There are thousands of waterways on the island that are suffering as well.”

Earlier this month Vujnovich presented his program to Paauilo Mauka Association for their support. “It’s a start. I’ve also presented to every volunteer program, such as Keep Puako Beautiful and many other nonprofit organizations who expressed the need to for getting waterways and gulches cleaned. I’m waiting to confirm an official cleanup date,” he said.

Vujnovich also has a working relationship with local Department of Public Works (DPW). “We gather litter and trash and stack it off to the side of the road in bags and they pick it up,” he said. “This is not a money problem. I think it’s more about getting everybody on board with the program to keep gulches clean and haul off cars. If you study how Yosemite has evolved into its program, it’s a great template or platform. It gets everybody to work together and practice to leave no trace.”

The state has offered to grant Vujnovich permits for conducting group trips and cleanup efforts in gulches on state land. “I want to train people in their communities who want to get their gulches clean and work with DPW to come and pick it up,” he said. “State, county and police people need to talk to each other. That’s the only way this will work.”

By Landry Fuller, Special to West Hawaii Today
As featured in West Hawaii Today July 23, 2017

Watch aerial footage of an abandoned car pulled out of Kalopa Gulch on the Big Island of Hawaii.

(video by Paradise Perspectives)

Trail Rhythms Efforts to Clean Up Trash From Hawaii Gulches

He wanted to clean up trash from Hawaii gulches. He had to cut through red tape to do it.

A Big Island man is taking his love of rock climbing and rappelling and using it to help fight illegal dumping in gulches. And he plans to launch a program to recruit others.

Before Steve Vujnovich started cleaning the Kapola Gulch in Paauilo, there was trash everywhere. “Because it’s out of sight and out of mind doesn’t mean that trash and that toxic stuff won’t make it down into the oceans. It’s frustrating but now it’s just become sad because people actually think this is OJ,” he said.

Earlier this month, with the help of heavy machinery and volunteers, Vujnovich and his 10-person team carefully guided a Nissan sedan up and out of the steep gulch. He said the abandoned car is just an example of the disgusting things people have dumped there. “There were about four or five broken five-gallon buckets that had motor oil in it. Tractor oil. We picked up maybe 300 pounds of carcasses. There was about five pigs and a bunch of fish and it was pretty bad,” Vujnovich said.

But before he was allowed to go down and clean up the gulch, Vujnovich said he went back and forth between the state and county for months trying to get permission. “All of the powers that be that could’ve helped we’re steadily unavailable,” he said. He said the Department of Land and Natural Resources told him he needed liability insurance. So he went and got certified as a climbing instructor and started a company called Trail Rhythms. He said the money he makes giving tours goes right back into preserving the gulches.

Vujnovich hopes to launch a program to train others to do similar cleanups of hidden dumpsites. He said DLNR has agreed to grant him permits to access gulches on state land on a case-by-case basis and he’s working with Hawaii County to properly dispose of the trash they collect.

“There’s a lot of good foundations out there that take care of the reef, that take care of the beaches, that take care of stuff like that. But what’s not being recognized is what’s above all that. The gulches just have trash and toxins in them,” he said.

As featured in Hawaii News Now – KGMB and KHNL, July 25, 2017

Steve Vujnovich Gives Presentation on Trail Rhythms’ Mission to PMKCA Board

From the Pa’auilo Mauka Kalopa Community Association President’s Report, May 2017

One of our PMKCA members has turned an interesting avocation into an unusual full-time vocation. Steve Vujnovich, long-time resident of the Pa’auilo Mauka area, was traveling through Sand Gulch awhile back when he looked down from the bridge and saw a bunch of a trash among the boulders at the bottom. He investigated and much to his amazement and disgust, the “trash” turned out to be multiple cans of used motor oil, some spilled into the water and others intact. He removed the oil and cleaned the area with assistance from Jim Millar and the volunteer Fire Department pumper truck. Later, he was lured deep into the gulch only to find more trash and litter. In the process, Steve realized just how stunning and beautiful the rugged, rock-studded terrain is. He appreciated the almost magical feeling of being at the bottom of Sand Gulch as well as other gulches, while at the same time knowing that all the litter will eventually make its way into the water table and ocean. With the steady encouragement of his wife, Rene, he vowed then and there to do something about it.

What they did was embark on a two-year personal crusade to learn all they could about rough terrain hiking and rappelling. Steve obtained the required licenses and credentials from the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). He networked with many nonprofit clean-up organizations who expressed the need for getting waterways and gulches cleaned. He has achieved the certification of Single Pitch Instructor from the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). This has helped him establish a pilot route down the Mid-Kalopa gulch (Sand Gulch) with a safe and eco-friendly entrance and exit. The goal of this effort was to establish a reliable path to help clean out the middle gulch.

The State of Hawaii has offered to grant him permits for conducting group trips and cleanup efforts in the gulches located on state land. To issue these permits the state required that he become certified as a professional in the field, which involves purchasing expensive liability insurance and undergoing intensive training. He has spent the past year working diligently to hone his craft to meet the professional standard required. This certification will enable him to operate as a professional guide and instructor in the realm of vertical rock climbing and rappelling.

The only way for Steve and Rene to maintain these standards and to make this idea sustainable was to create Trail Rhythms, LLC. This company/venture allows them to bring in funding and interest from off the island, money which they will be able to put back into the community and the land. Working as a professional in this field will also afford Trail Rhythms the time and resources to volunteer with the other organizations to train and help them with their community gulches and water-ways.

Furthermore, as a community leader in the field, Trail Rhythms, LLC will pledge to donate a percentage of its profits back into community programs and land stewardship efforts. They are currently in the process of determining what will yield the most benefit while keeping the program sustainable for the future. He will conduct four tours a week at best, operating on a 1:4 ratio. The means one guide for every four program participants, better than the national average which is typically 1:6. In keeping with their goal of adhering to traditional Leave No Trace principles, maintaining low traffic in the gulches will be of primary concern.