In Land We Trust

As the Kaua’i head of Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, Jennifer Luck works to save open spaces and pristine places

Jennifer Luck is passionate about protecting and preserving nature.

“Our survival depends on the health and well-being of the natural environment,” says the Kaua’i Island director of Hawaiian Islands Land Trust.

Luck could not imagine raising her 3-year-old daughter Midge in a place that lacked trees or where beaches were deemed inaccessible.

“I want to make sure my daughter has the best kind of community to grow up in,” says the Princeville resident.

In fact, that is one of the reasons she and husband Jason Schaper, an entrepreneur, moved to Kaua’i from Los Angeles in 2007.

“Like many people born and raised in a big city, we eventually wanted to start a family, but we wanted to have a family somewhere that we felt was a safe and healthy environment, and a place where a child can have a lot of freedom, where they could be brought up around nature and not concrete,” says Luck.

She was elated to land the job of executive director of Kaua’i Public Land Trust prior to her move. Luck had been doing nonprofit work in California, serving in positions such as director and program developer, and wanted to transition into something with a stronger environmental focus.

“I was really lucky,” she says, “particularly being in Hawaii, and the opportunity to protect and preserve the unique landscapes and the incredible attributes of this place.”

As the organization’s only employee, Luck made some notable accomplishments between 2007 and 2011.

A property overlooking Kahili Beach on the Kilauea River sits on 162 acres, 150 of which are encumbered by a conservation easement held by the land trust. In other words, though the owner still manages and controls public access, no development can ever take place on those 150 acres.

“And that’s a really wonderful thing,” says Luck. “Even if public access is not always up to us, we have to respect the land owners we work with. But it means open space is being preserved, that development won’t happen, increasing runoff into the river and stressing the natural environment in the surrounding area.”

Another deal was negotiated with a landowner at Black Pot Beach Park – three-quarters of an acre next to Hanalei Pier. The owner sold the plot to the land trust for the county at a bargain sale, or less than its appraised value.

Luck helped orchestrate the fee-simple deal and worked closely with the county to secure funding.

“Acquiring that piece really set that process of park expansion in motion,” she says. “Everybody came together – there was a lot of money that had to be raised.”

The county has since acquired additional land near Hanalei River and eventually will make it available for public access.

“We protect places that are special,” says Luck.

In 2011, Kaua’i Public Land Trust merged with land trusts on Maui, Oahu and Hawaii Island to form Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, and Luck is the Garden Isle’s representative. The organization continues to protect important natural habitats and culturally significant places.

Luck also is responsible for protecting agricultural and recreational spaces.

“We are protecting the places that sustain us for present and future generations,” she says.

Land is acquired through fee-simple purchase, conservation easements or donations and kept as open space. A recent example of a plot of land purchased and preserved by Hawaiian Islands Land Trust are several acres of unregulated public access at Kahili Beach.

Currently, the nonprofit is working on the acquisition of the former Coco Palms Resort. A grant-inaid for $270,000 recently was approved by the state Legislature and was still awaiting the governor’s sign-off at the time of this writing. The money will provide the organization with the ability to perform due diligence on the project and gather needed information, such as assessing the buildings’ structural integrity and completing an appraisal, in order to approach the owner with an appropriate offer.

One important facet of this process is to engage the community in the planning process.

“We feel like the community deserves an opportunity to determine the best use of that place,” says Luck. “The land trust would like to see at least a portion of it as open space, but beyond that, the community deserves a chance to determine the future for that place. The private sector had more than 20 years to try to do something there and it’s never happened.”

The Kaua’i Planning Commission recently revoked the permits held by the owner to redevelop the property.

“Hopefully, that will give us a little bit of breathing room,” says Luck.

However, there is still a sense of urgency to the process.

“We need to get it done sooner rather than later,” she says. “There is a groundswell of support, which I love and appreciate. I enjoy hearing from the community their thoughts and ideas. But we are really very much in the early stages still.”

Luck attributes much of her passion and dedication for conserving places such as Wailua to the late Gary Blaich, who served as Kaua’i Public Land Trust board president.

“It’s a privilege to work for the land trust, and not simply because I get to spend each day working toward protecting Kauai’s most precious places, but also because of the people I get to work with,” says Luck. “Gary was my guide and mentor, patiently teaching me the rich history of this island, introducing me to folks who could help further our mission and answering all of my questions.

He was a wealth of information and the most passionate advocate for protecting Kaua’i I have ever met. I feel very fortunate that I was able to spend so much time with him.”

Perhaps partly because of Blaich’s early influence, Bill Chase, current chairman of the Kaua’i Island Council for Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, believes Luck is well-suited for her job.

“Basically, Jennifer is competent beyond her years,” he says. “Her familiarity with the details of any given situation is awesome. She has a thorough command of the evolution of numerous long and complex land deals. I think she has done an amazing job of getting up to speed in ‘land trust world.’ I think land trust work has become much more than just a job for Jen. She genuinely enjoys making a difference for future generations.”

“It’s great to work for an organization where I’m constantly reminded how good people are, and that people really do want to do something to better themselves and the place that they live,” says Luck, who was born and raised in Los Angeles and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oregon.

When she isn’t working, Luck spends as much time with her family outdoors as possible, especially at the beach.

“On Kaua’i, life is so beautifully simple,” says the avid runner.

Keeping that natural simplicity is one of the most important things to Luck.

“Protecting that is a gift, and I feel like it’s a privilege to do what I do and particularly to do it in Hawaii, where land has such deep meaning and importance,” she says.

To become a member of Hawaiian Islands Land Trust or for more information, visit hilt.org.

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