Maunakea hosts the largest and finest ground based astronomical observing site in the world. The high altitude, atmospheric stability, minimal cloud cover, low humidity, minimal atmospheric pollutants, and the transparency of the atmosphere to infrared radiation makes Maunakea an unparalleled location for astronomy. In the 1960's, Hawaiʻi Island community business leaders initiated a major effort to attract astronomy to the mountain. In 1964 a small testing dome was built on Pu'upoliahu, initiating Maunakea as a modern day astronomical site.
In 1968 Governor John A. Burns established the Maunakea Science Reserve, and through a lease with the Department of Land & Natural Resources the University of Hawaiʻi was granted the authority to operate the Science Reserve as a scientific complex. The University of Hawaiʻi's Board of Regents adopted its first master plan for the Science Reserve (Mauna Kea Science Reserve Complex Development Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement) in 1983. In 2000 a new master plan (Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan) was adopted providing for community participation. In August, 2000 the Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) was established as directed in the Master Plan to responsibly steward the land use and activities on UH managed lands on Maunakea. In 2009 the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) was approved by the Board of Land & Natural Resources. This CMP included 4 sub-plans; Cultural Resource, Natural Resource, Public Access, and Decomissioning. About 12,000 acres of State-owned land on Maunakea are managed by OMKM.