Gunstock Ranch, a 900-acre ranch located just a 10-minute drive from the BYU–Hawaii campus, is planning big for its future. With help from conservation groups, the Gunstock’s COO said the ranch hopes to educate people about native plant life, while also educating about the paniolo lifestyle unique to the Hawaiian Islands.
According to an article by Forbes which featured it, Gunstock Ranch is Oahu’s first legacy forest. Across several review sites for the island of Oahu, Gunstock is listed as number one. The ranch also received a Certificate of Excellence from Tripadvisor.
Lilia Tollefsen, a BYUH alumna, now serves as Gunstock’s Chief Operating Officer (COO). Before coming to Gunstock, Tollefsen worked as a teacher at Kahuku Elementary. Wanting a place where she could be around her six children, Tollefsen decided to work at Gunstock for the owners, Kyndra and Greg Smith.
“I came here and started working with the Smiths. They allowed me to bring my kids and I was the extra hand they needed. They eventually put me in charge after I did the field trips, where we brought 3,000 kids to the ranch each summer. Eventually, they put me in charge of all the sales and marketing.”
Tollefsen described Gunstock as a horse and cattle ranch. She said, “We have been in operation for almost 50 years, and we’ve been doing the trail riding business since 2010. We do off-road tours, and planting tours, and have a petting zoo and Easter egg hunt.
“We specialize in small sized rides, that’s really our specialty, it’s how we stand out from everybody else. We take children as young as two on horseback rides, and we have the free petting zoo. Our goal is really to educate people about the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) lifestyle.
“We feel like being able to bring the children out. It allows us to teach them this way of life. All of Greg and Kyndra’s five children rodeo and they all start out when they’re young. The Smiths’ goal has been to let other children be a part of this lifestyle.” Tollefsen expressed the importance of making children an integral part of the ranch experience. She explained how today, it is hard to find a place in Hawaii where children are able to learn about and appreciate animals. “They get to be here with the animals, get to be out in nature, and get dirty. They’re able to just be kids and play.”
Patch of heaven
In the past few years, one of Gunstock’s main ventures has been reforestation of native Hawaiian plant life.
Jaeden Schaefer, a senior marketing major from Canada, has been working through his class to help Gunstock through advertising. He expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of reforestation. “Of the 900 acres, 500 acres have been dedicated to reforestation. The ranch is starting with milo trees, and about 3,000 trees have been planted at this point. Partnered with the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation, they are provided the technology and the seedlings needed to plant these trees which have been long-endangered.”
Tollefsen added, “Of the trees we’re trying to restore, only two of each were originally found. One was a Milo, and the other was a Noni. In the first phase, only four native trees were found in the first 80 acres which were being reforested at the time. Everything else was invasive, so reforestation is a very daunting task.
“Last year, we started offering planting tours native, where guests were able to plant a tree and dedicate it to somebody special.
“We’re finding we also need to restore the soil. It’s going to be a very difficult task to accomplish. We feel it’s a way for people to give back to Hawaii instead of taking from the land.
“A week long vacation for a family of four is offset by planting one tree, and it gives them the opportunity to give back.”
Edward Kam Wai Wong, a senior from Hong Kong majoring in marketing, reported he was excited at the prospect of Gunstock’s growth in the future. He remarked about the benefits it would have for families and generations to come. “It also provides an opportunity for students to work and to serve in the community. My marketing class chose Gunstock Ranch to help with advertising and marketing. There’s a big benefit where social media is concerned. We hope to help them get more followers so they can have more publicity and attract more tourists.
“Jaeden, my classmate used his marketing strategies to get Gunstock over 1300 followers on social media in the past 30 days. I was very glad we chose the ranch for our project.”
Tollefsen said she was privileged to be a part of Gunstock and thanked Greg and Kyndra Smith for inspiring her with their goal to give back to the land.