Kalaupapa Trail Closed After Landslide
The Kalaupapa trail is closed “indefinitely” to all settlement employees, visitors and mule riders after a landslide destroyed the bridge on the trail’s second switchback Christmas Day. Rhonda Loh, Acting Superintendent of the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, said the landslide was reported by a postal worker attempting to hike down the trail on the evening of Dec. 25.
The same bridge was washed out in an April 2010 landslide and in November of that year, was replaced with a new, aluminum bridge bolted into the cliffside. This time, repairs may take even longer, with the current federal government shutdown impacting National Park Service staff in Kalaupapa.
“While the government shutdown is in place, we have not been able to do a full size up/damage assessment of the trail system,” said Loh, via email. “So we don’t know if there is additional damage to the trail further below… Similarly we are unable to make repairs while we’re in a government shutdown.”
Loh said 35 NPS employees were working in Kalaupapa before the shutdown.
“Eight are currently working through the shutdown, some of them are on-call status,” she said. “Of those eight, the majority of them would typically hike in, [but] we are flying them in as needed right now.”
Department of Health workers are also among those having to fly into the settlement for their commutes.
Loh said visitor access to the settlement is unaffected by the government shutdown, but is limited to air travel with the trail closed. However, one business has been severely impacted by the trail closure. The iconic Molokai mule rides are on hold until the trail is repaired.
Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour staff did not return requests for comment but Kalehua Sproat-Augustiro, whose family has operated the business for more than 40 years, told The Maui News that even though the mules can’t traverse the trail, business has continued. Visitors can fly into the settlement and still take Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour’s bus tours of the settlement.
“As long as people keep booking the fly-ins, we should be able to just stay above water,” Sproat-Augustiro told The Maui News.
The mule ride business has continued to operate from another location after the company was evicted from its Kalae barn location last spring after lease disputes with R.W. Meyer.
In the meantime, with the federal employees off work and the shutdown currently extending more than three weeks, the status of the broken bridge remains in limbo.
“We urge folks to heed the trail closure and not risk endangering themselves,” Loh advised.