An Inspired Plan

Final part of a series of stories about resilience during the pandemic
05 21 Feature Hope Resilience 1800x1200 12 Peter Thoene
Photo: courtesy of Kupu

The pandemic has crippled thousands of small businesses in Hawai‘i and forced tens of thousands of people to find new jobs. Amid these personal tragedies are stories of grit, perseverance and transformation. Here is one of those stories.

Peter Thoene loved his work as a guide for Hawaii Forest & Trail on Hawai‘i Island, and then managing the company’s expansion to O‘ahu.

During his original eight-week training in 2015, “I learned all the legends and stories, and all about the native plants, the history, the geology, and filled all those gaps in my knowledge,” he says.

But in March 2020, the pandemic closed all the tours. Thoene flew to Hawai‘i Island, moved back in with his parents and pondered what to do next.

“I decided I want to go into conservation,” he says. “I loved teaching people but I wanted to have some impact in this state. And that’s when I applied to Kupu.”

Thoene was assigned to the forest bird recovery program on O‘ahu through the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and worked with Lainie Berry, the state’s forest bird recovery coordinator. Again, he loved the work, but it ended in December 2020. A state freeze on hiring meant he couldn’t remain in the job.

He applied for other conservation jobs, but nothing was available.

“I thought I was going to take this path, but it was a wash, so I decided I am going to make my own,” he says.

“I have a goal to build a trail some day across the island of Hawai‘i from the northern tip to the southern tip. In New Zealand there are nine hikes called the Great Walks, through nine of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. It’s called ‘through hiking,’ with cabins along the way, and people flock to it. … In 2019 they made 8 million New Zealand dollars on these trails. But we have nothing like that in Hawai‘i.”

That’s what Thoene wants to change.

“If you could hike from north to south you could have all these different climate zones and different habitats and see all these different species. I think it would attract the type of people we want to have here, people who want to have a transformative experience with nature.

“Until I started working with Lainie and Kupu I didn’t know there were so many dedicated people who care as much as I do about Hawai‘i’s natural future. And that was inspiring. I can stay here in Hawai‘i and become one of those people.”

Categories: Natural Environment, Success Stories