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Kalaupapa Trail Repair Lingering

Mule rides to be closed for several months.

A footbridge damaged by a mudslide on the Kalaupapa pali trail two weeks ago could take up to three months to be permanently fixed – causing further disruption to the settlement’s tourism industry.

While switchback bridge No. 3 has been temporarily repaired to provide emergency access for residents and employees, it will remain closed to visitors, hikers and mule rides until a permanent bridge is erected, said National Park Service (NPS) Superintendent Steve Prokop.

“We’re working really quickly on getting the permanent bridge installed,” Prokop said. “[It will take] about three months, hopefully less.”

NPS closed the trail April 13 after the partially-collapsed bridge was discovered by hikers and rangers.

Structural engineers and a contractor are working in conjunction with the NPS to finalize the evaluation, design and work plan of the new bridge, and hope to launch its construction promptly. Early estimates put the cost at about $150,000 – already secured by the NPS due to an earlier proposal to replace the bridge.

Prokop stresses the makeshift bridge is only to be utilized by Kalaupapa employees and residents for essential travel to topside Molokai. The windy 2.9-mile trail – 1,700 feet above sea level with 26 switchbacks – is the only land route to the Hansen’s disease settlement at Kalaupapa. It remains accessible by boat or plane.

“We don’t want to compromise the temporary bridge,” Prokop explained. “It’s a safety issue for the public.”

Due to the unfortunate circumstances, Molokai Mule Ride, a popular tour that attracts visitors from around the globe, will take a major hit as mule access is halted for at least a couple months.

“Can we survive that long without revenue? It’s hard to say,” said Roy Horner, president of Molokai Mule Ride.

To help offset some of the losses and provide the workers with some financial compensation, NPS hired the mule skinners to help bring down equipment and assist with the construction of the bridge.
 
“They’ve been extremely helpful,” Prokop added.

Until safe passage is fully restored, Molokai Mule Ride has developed two fly-in packages with Makani Kai Air Charters to maintain a steady flow of business. Visitors can also book Damien Tours, flying from topside Molokai or Honolulu to Kaluapapa via the Historical Park Tour by Damien Tour Company.

Horner said his company’s newly-offered packages have been filling up, with visitors switching over from the mule rides to air options. But, it’s still only half the amount of tourists they usually rake in.

“This is a time where we’re going to have to get creative,” he added. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep running.”

For more information on the tours, visit www.muleride.com.

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