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Tree-Planting Road(Eastern saddle, above Hilo, Hawai'i,)
Tree Planting Road crosses the eastern slope of the windward Saddle above Hilo for 10 miles from Saddle Road (16 mile marker, elev. 4200 ft) to Stainback Highway (2900 ft) on Mauna Loa's eastern rift zone. This is a very rainy part of the island, so it's best to start at or before dawn on a clear morning and plan to be back by noon. The "road" is just a 6-10 foot wide 4WD trail bulldozed through the forest and over the lava flows, and is often covered with a few inches of standing water at intervals. It is open to 4WD vehicles roughly half the year, generally mid-summer through autumn. It is very smooth just off of Saddle Road, and gets far more rugged pretty quick. It isn't very difficult on a mountain bike, but very bumpy due to loose rock. Check the sign at the road entrance for hunting information, and wearing bright colors is a good idea. If you search the internet for "tree planting road" you'll find at least one very good page about the road, with topo maps and elevation profiles.
I would not particularly recommend this area for bird watching, as there are not that many birds compared to areas further up Saddle Road. However, there are a few interesting natural features and views on this road, and it's a good mountain bike ride for those who like mud and rocks, or just a good place to get far away from civilization. Some might like to study the various habitats and plants growing along it. After entering the first forest/kipuka there are many mud pits and ponds on the road, so expect to get wet feet if you continue on.
For the first half mile the road crosses a scrubby forest growing on the 1855 lava flow. There are various parking pull-outs along this stretch of the road. The road gets really rough as it hits a much more dense forest of varying quality, which will be the densest bird concentration. After about 2.5km it crosses the 1881 lava flow, which is scrubby short forest again. Soon after it crosses the massive 1984 'a'a flow, which provides an interesting view of Hilo. Then there's a long stretch of forest before it crosses the 1942 'a'a lava flow. From the 1942 flow to Stainback Highway there is a mix of very weedy native forest and timber plantation blocks.
If you decide to go off-road, use a GPS AND compass, and some trail marking tape, because this is some extremely rugged, boggy and densely vegetated country. ASSUME that if you get lost here YOU WILL DIE. (Maybe you won't, but I'm not kidding, take it seriously)
If you have a good map (e.g. the Bier map, or USGS topo map) you'll also see a short dead-end road starting off of the same side of Saddle Road just downhill from Tree Planting Road, heading generally East. This trail isn't much at the beginning where it crosses scrubby forest on the 1855 lava flow, but after about 1/2 mile it also drops down into a VERY dense forest that's quite interesting and often has a decent assortment of common birds.
On the North side of Saddle Road across from Tree Planting Road is a large open parking area which has become a shooting range. (of debatable legality) At the northwest corner of the bulldozed area you may be able to find Marita Camp Trail to the Wailuku river. I would not recommend it to casual visitors.
Another interesting place to explore in this area is the powerline service roads running along the other side of Saddle Road. Otherwise, lonely Tree Planting Road crosses a VERY remote part of the Saddle, and there's no other road or trail crossing the Saddle between Ola'a Flume Road at the 8 mile mark and Kulani Powerline Road at the 22 mile mark. That's an interesting feature in and of itself!
 Notable Species
Most common native and non-native forest birds can be found at the northern end of Tree Planting Road all year.
Rarities are very unlikely.
Natives: 'apapane, 'i'iwi, 'amakihi, 'oma'o, and 'elepaio will all be present around the northern end of Tree Planting Road throughout the year. You will not find endangered honeycreepers at this location. 'Io might occasionally be found. Kolea might occasionally roost on the road and lava flows at night.
Non-natives: house finch, red-billed leiothrix, japanese white-eye, yellow-fronted canary, japanese bush-warbler, and chinese hwamei (melodious laughing-thrush).
 Other Wildlife
Feral pigs, dogs and cats. Mongoose, rats and mice. Skinks. There is a chance some native snails could still live in the areas bordered by forest with fairly solid canopy.
 Site Information
 History and Use
The timber plantations on windward Mauna Loa were developed in the 1960's and 1970's - I'm not certain what year Tree Planting Road was created. Huge swathes of native forest on windward Mauna Loa were bulldozed away to create the timber plantations, introducing many noxious weeds deep into the former wilderness.
Finally a bit of trivia - Tree Planting Road, Powerline Road, Stainback Highway, the powerline service trails, and the other trails on this part of the saddle once formed the course for an off-road motorcycle race every year. It is now called the Mauna Kea 200, and the course is more restricted now. The motorcycle club helped re-establish Tree Planting Road across the 1984 lava flow.
 Areas of Interest
 Access and Facilities
 Contact Details
 External Links
Content and images originally posted by bkrownd