Molokai Mule Ride on the Edge

Famous business struggles for survival.

By Catherine Cluett, Special to the Dispatch

Life has been rough for those who depend on the Kalaupapa trail, which has been closed since April. Molokai Mule Ride is on the brink of survival, losing a lot of money since they had to cease operation. But they’ve had to face another hard blow in addition.

Molokai Mule Ride owner Roy Horner said three mules of their 19 mules died recently from eating a poisonous plant called Jimson Weed, commonly known as Stink Weed or Devil’s Apple. One more mule is dying, he said, and six are still recovering. That leaves very few beasts of burden to continue the operation when the trail does re-open.

“It’s a devastating loss,” said Horner. “It’s really horrible right now.”

Buying new mules from the mainland can cost thousands of dollars for purchase, shipping and handling fees. Horner said he hopes to bring in more mules to replace those lost, but it may not be for a while.

The National Park Service (NPS), which maintains the trail, constructed a temporary wooden bridge to allow employees to hike to work. But the trail is closed to all other hikers, visitors and the famous Molokai Mule Rides. NPS is working to install a permanent 65-foot prefabricated aluminum bridge to span the gap. It likely will not be complete until late September or early October.

Horner said he hopes to continue on a reduced scale, with almost half the number of mules, after the trail re-opens. But he said it will take at least a month to train the mules and bring back their stamina for the grueling 1,700-foot cliff trek. It will also take funds the business does not have.

Molokai Mule Ride has adapted to provide air charter packages with Makani Kai Air Charters, offering a package deal that includes a round trip air ticket as well as a spot on the guided Damien Tours. Charter packages from Oahu are also available.

Steve Prokop, NPS Kalaupapa superintendent, said he has employed the ‘muleskinners” – as mule drivers and guides are known – to help with the bridge repairs whenever possible. But the business is still struggling for survival.

“We’re hoping and praying we can find some money,” said Horner.

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