by: Being Local

As we bring in 2017, we look back at several events that made their mark in 2016. From the passing of two greatly admired public servants to the revival of one of the island's favorite places, 2016 certainly left it's mark on everyone who calls the Big Island home.

1. Mauna Kea Recreation Area (formerly known as Mauna Kea State Park) – On December 1, 2016, Mayor Billy Kenoi alongside Senator Kai Kahele celebrated the unveiling of the newly renovated Mauna Kea Recreation Area. Improvements included enhanced lighting, a new playground, upgraded cabins and dining hall as well as new walkways, walking paths, fitness equipment and other amenities.

As the only stop for 50 plus miles over the Daniel K. Inouye highway (aka Saddle Road), the Mauna Kea Recreation Area was in desperate need of renovations for years. Hawaii County assumed control of the area in 2014 and immediately started on the renovation project.

2. Former Mayor Harry Kim reclaims the Mayor's seat in convincing fashion – After his first stint ended in 2008, former Big Island Mayor Harry Kim announced in March that he would be running once again for the same seat. In a field of over a dozen candidates, Kim won in a majority vote during the primary to reclaim his old seat. While critics cite his age, 76, as a weakness, the new mayor says he's “feeling good” and “excited” about the new challenge.

3. Return Of The Naniloa Hotel – While the Naniloa technically never went out of business, there's no doubt that many in the community saw it as a shell of it's former self. In 2016, we watched as one of the Big Island's historic sites rose from the ashes and returned to it's past glory. Now formally known as The Grand Naniloa, millions of dollars went into a major facelift of beautifully renovated rooms, an upgraded lobby, the newly branded Willie K Crown Room and much, much more. Also, be sure to keep your Hilton Rewards card handy as the Grand Naniloa has officially become a part of the Hilton chain of resorts.

4. The passing of Public Servants Gil Kahele and Clift Tsuji – In a year that saw great change for the Big Island, we were not left without tragedy. State Senator Gil Kahele, intimately known by many as “Uncle Gil” answered the call to serve the Big Island and Hawaii in 2011 when former Governor Neil Abercrombie appointed him to the position of State Senator.. Kahele died on January 26, 2016 while still serving in office. He was 73. Many will remember him for his warmth and humility as well as his candid catch phrase during election season – no vote, no grumble.

State Rep. Clift Tsuji was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2004. He was re-elected in 2016 to represent House District 2 which includes Keaukaha, Panaewa, Waiakea and Parts of Hilo. Tsuji died on November 15, 2016 after suffering a heart attack while still serving in office. He was 75. Governor David Ige describes Tsuji as a “quiet man with a big heart who had the courage to stand for his convictions.”

5. The truth about Peter Boy Kema – After almost two decades one of the Big Island's most high profile cases is back in the spotlight. On Decmber 1, Jaylin Kema, mother of Peter Boy Kema confessed to manslaughter in the disappearance of her 6 year old son. She also agreed to testify against her husband in exchange for a plea deal that lessened her charge from murder to manslaughter. Peter Kema Sr. is scheduled to appear in court on January 23, 2017.

6. Mayor Billy Kenoi Exonerated in pCard Fiasco – On November 1, 2016, a jury of 5 men and 7 women found Mayor Billy Kenoi not guilty on all charges related to allegations he misused a county credit card. Kenoi was accused in 2015 of using his Government issued pCard for personal use. While the mayor did not deny use of the card, he did inform the media that he paid it all back. The situation caused a considerable uproar on social media with critics saying that he would not have paid it back if he never got caught while supporters of the mayor found the act of paying it all back enough to satisfy them. Kenoi's final term ends in December of 2016.

And that was just some of the events that made 2016 a memorable year. What other events did we miss? And what are some of the expectations for 2017? Whatever they are, it is sure to be one heck of a year.  Happy New Year!