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Kalaupapa Trail Slated to Reopen by Year End

The process of constructing and installing a bridge to one of the most remote and logistically inaccessible locations in Hawaii is no easy task. But the Kalaupapa National Historical Park Service is slated to begin the process of rebuilding the bridge on switchback three of the famed Kalaupapa pali trail in October that was wiped out by a landslide last December.

The federal government was shutdown at the time the bridge damage was discovered by a postal worker hiking down the trail at the end of last year. No work could be done until the government reopened in late January, explained park superintendent Erika Stein Espaniola.

“We then secured the fallen bridge in place so it wouldn’t cause further damage,” Espaniola said of the structure that was completely demolished by the landslide. “We also did an overall assessment of work that would need to be done. We’ve been doing some rock scaling and vegetation removal to get rid of the loose material near the bridge site.”

Starting in May, crews worked to remove the broken bridge, which “alone was quite an operation,” according to Espaniola.

“We had personnel tied in with ropes and a chainsaw to cut the old bridge into smaller pieces and pulled back onto the trail with ropes,” she said. “Then our hardworking crew hauled out the bridge pieces themselves and hiked it off the trail! As you can imagine, along the way we’ve also needed to complete compliance and build in safety protocols and plans for all this work.”

Removal of the old bridge cost about $50,000, while the new bridge’s budget is estimated at about $200,000, according to Espaniola.

Meanwhile, she said, the park’s engineer has been working to line up a contractor to fabricate and install a new bridge.

“We anticipate that the contractor will start building the bridge in October and we aim for it to be completed by the end of the calendar year.”

During this time, the only access to the settlement has been by plane for workers and visitors alike. The famed Molokai mule rides have not been able to operate, though the company still offers bus tours of Kalaupapa.

The project is a replacement that will be similar to the former bridge, which had been 65 feet long and built from high-grade aluminum. That structure had been built following another mudslide that wiped out the previous bridge in the same location in April of 2010.

Espaniola said the engineers have told them it’s simply not possible to build a bridge that can withstand a large landslide, but “it’s not uncommon to see rocks on it” that fall frequently from the cliffside above it.

She acknowledged the difficultly of the location but said it’s just part of the job.
“Access is already so limited into the park so as challenging as it is, it was never a discussion that [rebuilding the bridge] is not going to be done,” she said.

Though park staff has encountered a number of challenges along the way in the bridge planning and rebuilding effort, Espaniola said the trail is slated to reopen by the end of this year.


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