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