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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mudslide closes trail to Kalaupapa

By Chris Hamilton
Maui News

The past week of heavy rain created a mudslide that caused serious damage to a footbridge on the "pali trail," forcing the National Park Service on Tuesday afternoon to close the only land route to the Kalaupapa Hansen's disease settlement, which remains accessible by plane or boat.

Kalaupapa National Historic Park Superintendent Stephen Prokop said yesterday 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 at 1,700-feet high to the settlement at sea level.

The incident highlighted the frailty 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 would hurt Molokai's modest visitor industry, Kalaupapa workers and residents said.

The former home to Saint Damien and the remaining elderly 14 Hansen's disease patients is only accessible to the general public by hiking, taking a mule ride along the trail or by flying to the tiny Kalaupapa airport via private charter or Pacific Wings, which charges about $500 for a round trip to fly to Molokai's topside airport in Hoolehua, 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 Molokai Mule Ride, said yesterday that 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 legendary for its natural beauty, rich history and unique spiritual sense of place.

The impact of the trail's temporary closure on the island's tourism remains to be seen.

"But I don't think a lot of people on the topside understand we are Molokai's bread and butter," Marks said.

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