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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 16, 2010

Mudslide closes Kalaupapa trail

By Chris Hamilton
Maui News

A mudslide has caused serious damage to a footbridge on Moloka'i's "pali trail," prompting the National Park Service on Tuesday to close the only land route to the Hansen's disease settlement at Kalaupapa.

It remains accessible by plane or boat.

Kalaupapa National Historic Park superintendent Stephen Prokop said it will take about $150,000 and several weeks to repair switchback bridge No. 3.

The bridge is a few hundred yards from the top of the narrow and winding 2.9-mile trail that takes travelers from topside to the settlement 1,700 feet below.

The mudslide damage, triggered by recent heavy rains, highlighted the fragility of Kalaupapa's access to the world.

And although tourism numbers are slightly up since Saint Damien was canonized in October, the loss of the trail will hurt Moloka'i's modest visitor industry, Kalaupapa workers and residents said.

The home of the remaining elderly 14 Hansen's disease patients, the site where Damien served, is accessible to the general public under normal circumstances only by hiking, by taking a mule ride along the trail or by flying to the tiny Kalaupapa airport on a private charter or Pacific Wings, which charges about $500 for a round trip from Moloka'i's topside airport in Ho'olehua, up from about $100 for the same trip a year or so ago. There is no ferry service to Kalaupapa, only a supply barge once or twice a year.

Despite the closure of the trail and the suspension of mule rides, Roy Horner, president of Moloka'i Mule Ride, said his business remained busy scheduling charter air flights for visitors into the park and settlement. The company works closely with Hansen's disease patients and town matriarch Gloria Marks, who operates Damien Tours.

Marks' company takes the mule riders and hikers on guided bus tours of the settlement, which is noted for its natural beauty, rich history and spiritual sense of place.