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Trail Access Threatens Mule Ride

The Sproat family, owners of Molokai’s legendary mule ride, say they’re worried land access issues may prevent the business from continuing operation.


Photo by Catherine Cluett Pactol

The Kalae barn that serves as their base of business — home to the mules that make daily guided trips down the rugged Kalaupapa trail — is on land owned by R.W. Meyer Ltd, leased by the Sproats. R. W. Meyer also owns the land at the trailhead by Kalae Highway, through which mules and hikers must pass to access the settlement.

The late Buzzy Sproat operated the mule ride for more than 40 years, and his family has owned the business for 25 years. His daughter, Kalehua Sproat-Augustiro, is now continuing to operate Kalaupapa Rare Adventures with her brother, and mother, Marlene. She said a locked gate was installed last September, and the Meyers are asking for 20 percent of the business’ gross profits for them to continue using the trail access through the gate. She said the Meyers have also doubled their rent on the mule stable.

A representative of R.W. Meyer did not return requests for comment.

The Meyers also have a long history on Molokai. Rudolph Wilhelm Meyer of Germany came to Hawaii in 1850, married Chiefess Kalama Waha and they settled on Molokai, according to the family website, rwmeyer.com. Their descendants now manage the family’s significant acreage in Kalae.

Sproat-Augustiro said the Meyers cited concerns over illegal hunting for the gate’s installation, but she said its impact is far-reaching.

“It’s blocking access down to Kalaupapa, the beach and our place of work,” Sproat-Augustiro said in a video released by the family.

Erika Stein Espaniola, superintendent of the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, said the National Park Service (NPS) has agreements with both Kalaupapa Rare Adventures and R. W. Meyer. Their Memorandum of Agreement with the Meyers allows NPS employees, volunteers and contractors to access the Kalaupapa trailhead through Meyer property, she said.

Sproat-Augustiro said the business cannot afford to pay the Meyers 20 percent of profits for access to the trail.

“We’re just a small family business, we’re not trying to be rich… just trying to stay afloat, trying to stay above water,” she said.

Years ago, the Meyers tried to lock access to the trail, she added, but her dad told them it was illegal and they removed it. This time, she said, the Meyers have not been negotiating.

“I can’t just give this whole thing up,” said Marlene Sproat in the video. “It’s my husband’s legacy… I want to carry on that legacy, especially for our children… We’re here to share the aloha with others, especially those that come from all over the world… We have the privilege taking people down by mule.”

In the meantime, Kalaupapa Rare Adventures continues to operate. Sproat-Augustiro said as of Sunday, her family has yet to receive documents in writing, and has not agreed to the terms given by the Meyers.

If an agreement can’t be reached, however, the dispute could mean the end of the historic business.

“It would be bad for everybody in the community, not just us,” said Sproat-Augustiro. “It’s mostly sad for us because we would lose the legacy – [but] it would affect not just us, but the Molokai economy.”

The mule ride is a tourist attraction to the island, and along with hiking and plane, represents one of the few ways to access the Kalaupapa settlement.

“Both [Kalaupapa Rare Adventures] and the Meyers are valued partners with the NPS and we greatly desire that these two parties can come to an agreement,” said Stein Espaniola, via email.


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