WAILUKU, Hawaii >> A steep trail to the remote Kalaupapa leprosy settlement in Hawaii has been closed indefinitely after a landslide took out a bridge along one of the switchbacks.
Kalaupapa National Historical Park Acting Superintendent Rhonda Loh told the Maui News the trail is closed while officials figure out how to repair it. She said the Park Service is short-staffed because of the federal government shutdown, so officials will examine the damage when the shutdown is over.
The 3-mile trail zigzags down the steep cliffside in a series of 26 switchbacks. It provides the only land access to the isolated peninsula on Molokai’s north coast. Hikers, mule riders and federal and state employees use the trail. A postal service worker discovered the bridge damage on Christmas Day.
Kalaupapa is where Hawaii banished leprosy patients for about a century.
Leprosy has been treatable with drugs since the 1940s and the state stopped exiling patients in 1969. Today, only a few former patients, all elderly, still live there. They’re cured of the disease and are free to leave, but have chosen to stay because Kalaupapa has become their home.
The Park Service maintains a park at Kalaupapa, which is also famous for being where Saint Damien and Saint Marianne cared for leprosy patients when fear of the disease kept most others away.
Damien, who contracted leprosy and died of it at Kalaupapa, was a 19th-century Belgian priest canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2009. Marianne was a nun from New York state who was canonized in 2012.
In April 2010, a mudslide damaged the bridge along the same switchback and forced the trail’s closure for several months.
Kalaupapa Rare Adventure has suspended its mule-riding tours, said Kalehua Sproat-Augustiro, whose family has been guiding riders down the trail since the 1970s. The company will fly clients to Kalaupapa instead if they wish.
So far with the shutdown, Sproat-Augustiro said it’s still been “business as usual.” Most tours have been close to their 25-person capacity over the holidays.
“As long as people keep booking the fly-ins, we should be able to just stay above water,” Sproat-Augustiro said.
The state Department of Health employs about 40 people at Kalaupapa. Kenneth Seamon, the department’s Kalaupapa administrator, said the agency may fly in employees who normally use the trail.
Supply deliveries shouldn’t be affected since they come via barge and plane. Seamon said the barge arrives once a year in the summer, and Kamaka Air stops weekly.