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Barge Day At Kalaupapa National Historical Park

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August 2 marked "Barge Day" At Kalaupapa National Historical Park/NPS

Every so often, something pops up that sounds so fascinating, it simply must be investigated. That'™s what happened the other day when I made my daily visit to the NPS Morning Report and found an article that set my curiosity ablaze. I don'™t remember ever having heard of Kalaupapa and I know I'™ll never be able to visit the place in person, but thanks to modern electronic communications and the Internet, I was able to visit virtually. Since half the fun of discovering something new is sharing it with others, I'™ll use Traveler to do that with you . . . . the following was compiled by Ranger Timothy Jordan.

Annual Supply Shipment Welcomed On Barge Day 

Saturday, August 2nd, was one of the most highly anticipated days of 2014 for Kalaupapa National Historical Park and the small and isolated settlement of Kalaupapa, Hawaii.

On one summer day each year, a barge from Honolulu delivers all of the settlement'™s supplies for the upcoming year. Carefully arranged on the barge deck are new vehicles, fuel trucks, and shipping containers loaded with pallets of food stuffs, large appliances, furniture, building supplies and more. It is on this day that the sleepy settlement of only ninety people bustles with people and machines, unloading the supplies as quickly and safely as possible.

Kalaupapa'™s natural isolation has always made receiving supplies extremely difficult. The twelve-square-mile peninsula on which the park is located juts out of the north shore of the island of Molokai, with rough ocean waters on three sides and 2,000-foot-high sheer cliffs on the fourth.

Historically, residents who purchased large or heavy items that could not be brought in by mule or small plane waited until the annual barge day to receive them. A resident-patient of Kalaupapa once described Barge Day as being like Christmas '“ 'œThe number one day. The big day that everybody waits for'¦'

This year, Barge Day began around 7 a.m. on Saturday, August 2nd. The barge appeared on the horizon heading towards Kalaupapa with the aid of a tug boat. Community members gathered to watch, while Hawaii Department of Health and NPS employees in hard hats and orange vests stood ready to assist with unloading. By 8 a.m., the barge had tied up to the pier and unloading had begun. First to roll off the barge were three fuel tankers to replenish the settlement'™s supply of gasoline and diesel fuel. Also unloaded were twelve new vehicles, two new forklifts, a backhoe, and dump truck.

Then a flurry of forklifts and heavy lifting equipment began unloading dozens of shipping crates and pallets containing supplies ranging from food to lime mortar and sand for gravestone restoration work. Dozens of workers from the state federal governments and the Young Brothers'™ barge team worked through the morning unloading numerous shipping containers and pallets.

After the barge was unloaded of all its cargo supplies, it was loaded with shipping crates containing a year'™s worth of the settlement'™s aluminum and plastic recyclables scrap metal, defunct vehicles, old appliances, and hazardous materials. Prior to the barge'™s arrival, state and federal employees had staged these materials nearby for easy removal.

By the early afternoon, the barge embarked on its journey back to Honolulu, while Kalaupapa residents and workers unpacked all of the supplies for the coming year. 

Kaluapapa, which honors the memories and experiences of the people forcibly sent here beginning in the 1860s because they were afflicted with leprosy, today is a highly restricted area as it still serves as a community for about eight or nine surviving patients of the old colony. While they've been cured of the diseasase, they still bear its disfiguring marks.

Visitors must have a permit to enter and may do so only when escorted by tour guides. No visitors under the age of 16 are permitted. Boats are not allowed within a quarter-mile of shore. There is no camping, no lodging, and no food facilities within the park. The Hawai'™i Department of Health regulates access to the park. There's a limit of 100 visitors a day to the park, but typically there are only 20-40 a day.

A quick phone call to the park informed me that about 45 staff work there, and most live at the site. 

If you want to learn more there are literally hundreds of websites with information about the park and its history. Turn your Google search on and have fun!


The folks who live at Kalaupapa definitely have to plan ahead for their shopping! A similar situation prevails for the staff at Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, which has its headquarters in Nome, Alaska.

If people in Nome miss their summer's barge shipment, they're reduced to having stuff shipped in by air. Nome might as well be on an island, since there is no road access to that area from the rest of the world, and unlike Hawaii, once the Bering Sea freezes over each winter, there will definitely be no deliveries by water! I spent two weeks in Nome in December several years ago – a fascinating place, but it's not a lifestyle for everyone.




After sending this article off to Traveler, I managed to contact ranger Timothy Jordan at Kaluapapa and ask some questions and suggest that he submit an article about his experiences at KALU..  Here is his email with some more interesting details:

Internet, like the phone, can be unreliable too!  So, since I have connectivity right now I'll be sure to check out the Traveler to get some ideas of what you publish.   

To answer your question about the park staff: The park does have a staff of about 40 - 45 people.  The park has over 10,000 acres to manage, with more than 250 historic structures, 1100 archeological sites, endangered plants with as few as 20 left in the world, more than 7 miles of coral reef, a 250,000 object museum collection, a recycling center to manage waste, and more. NPS really is managing a town here, in addition to the park operation... a pretty hefty undertaking. 

Why in the world is this in the National Park System?

Last year on Molokai we were able to gaze down on Kalaupapa from the overlook. My wife had been down to Kalaupapa proper early in her NPS days, doing some work as a visiting museum curator. Whether visiting directly as she did or simply reading the history placards from the overlook, this place has a lasting impact on visitors. I'm glad the history is being preserved for both the remaining living residents, those many who have passed, and for the education and enlightenment of the rest of us.

ec – Given the very limited public use of the area, your question is understandable. It's certainly not the "typical" NPS unit (however we might define such a place :-)

According to the information from the park website, "Nearly all of the land within the 10,700+ acre authorized boundary remains in non-federal ownership, managed by the National Park Service through several cooperative agreements."

According to the park's establishing legislation, "At such time when there is no longer a resident patient community at Kalaupapa, the Secretary shall reevaluate the policies governing the management, administration, and public use of the park is order to identify any changes deemed to be appropriate."

You'll find links to the above, and other information, at this site. 


i'm glad your glad. Why dont you write the check to perserve it rather than the millions of taxpayers that have never heard of the place and couldnt care less about it. 

I'm sure the same could be said about many other historic places protected by NPS.

Let's see, how about Brown vs Board of Education?  Or Tuskeegee Airmen?  Or Manzanar? Or . . . or. . . . or?

Just because you or your next door neighbor haven't heard of them doesn't mean they have no importance at all in our nation's history.  If they are not preserved, important stories may be lost forever.  There is one other similar place in the U.S., located in Louisiana.  Here is a link to a travel website.  Read the comments posted in it.

Remember that a knowledge of history is supposed to guide wisdom for the future.  It's terribly unfortunate that to far too many Americans, history is but a dull footnote in a world of clangorous entertainment.

Apparently, Congress in its eternal wisdom thought Kalaupapa was worthy of park designation. 

Another link.  Again, scroll down and read the comments.

And a fascinating article from the New York Times:

One line from the article caught and held my eye.  It may say exactly what needs to be said about the importance of preserving this place and its story.  " . . . . a national historical park with restrictions befitting its almost sacred nature."  Be sure to read the entire article.

 And still another:

Why do we need to preserve places like these?  Could it be because of people with stories like these?  Stories that should be remembered.

Let's see, how about Brown vs Board of Education? Or Tuskeegee Airmen? Or Manzanar? Or . . . or. . . . or?

Agreed, those and many others have no business being NPS units. That is one of the reasons the NPS is underfunded.

There are tens of thousands of "historic" cites in our country.  Should all of these be in the NPS?  Of course not.  And of course the NPS is not the only entity that could serve a "preservation" function.  You want to tell a story, then write a book or write a check.  Lets leave the NPS for the truly unique properties. 

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