To Save The Kapaia Swinging Bridge

Charter members of the Kapaia Foundation (front, from left) Evan St. John, Cheyenne St. John, Tiana Manera, Mikey Manera (back) David and Nina Monasevitch, Billy Bran, Kimo St. John, Laraine Moriguchi, Cindra Manera and Catherine Caycayon. Photo courtesy Laraine Moriguchi

A trio of community-minded folks wants to bring back the footbridge that links Kapala and Hanama’ulu, as well as generations of workers

The Kapaia Swinging Bridge is an endangered species. Once it disappears, you can never get it back, says Kimo St. John, one of the three core members of a neighborhood group dedicated to saving the historic gem.

Bruised and battered by years of neglect, the once pedestrian-friendly connection between Hanama’ulu and Kapaia is currently camouflaged by overgrown foliage and is no longer accessible.

“It’s a historical treasure,” says Laraine Moriguchi, another core member. “I want to save it to honor the sugar plantation immigrants. That’s who the bridge was originally built for. For me, it connects all the different cultures and races that came, and it welcomes those who came afterward. It’s a symbol that brings people together.”

Built in 1948, the Kapaia Swinging Bridge is the only suspension bridge – hung by cables – on the Hawai’i State Register of Historic Places. But it is in desperate need of some tender loving care, according to Moriguchi.

The abandoned condition it is in right now is shameful, says Billy Bran, the third core member who has lived in the neighborhood for the longest period of time.

“My parents used the bridge, and so did their parents, and their parents before that,” he says.

Lihu’e wasn’t always the “main town,” Bran explains.

Kapaia had many shops, churches and agricultural enterprises. The workers from Lihu’e Plantation used the suspension bridge to travel to and from their jobs at the sugar cane fields in Hanama’ulu.

“Kapaia was a bustling town,” says Moriguchi, who owns property in the area and whose family also lived in the neighborhood.

Nearly everyone used the bridge – which crosses Kapaia Stream – on a daily basis. It’s why Bran, along with Moriguchi and St. John, continue to invest so much time and energy attempting to save the link between Kaua’i’s past and present.

Moreover, up until the day the bridge was officially barricaded in 2006, folks were still using the relic as it provided the “safest route to walk” between Hanama’ulu and Kapaia without crossing the highway, Bran says. It was still used by Sunday churchgoers, children fishing and playing, and it also provided a location for tourists to visit and embrace Kaua’i’s past.

“It’s a connection between our children and our grandparents,” says St. John, who routinely takes time off work to meet with members of the county, encouraging them to provide the funding necessary to restore the bridge. “I’d just hate to see them lose another piece of Kaua’i. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen little pieces of it taken away every day that will never be returned. And this is something that shouldn’t be lost.”

While there are three other suspension bridges on Kaua’i – Hanapepe, Waimea and Keapana – only Kapaia remains in inaccessible ruins.

Kaua’i County is currently conducting an assessment to determine the exact cost to repair Kapaia Swinging Bridge, Moriguchi says.

At one point, the county had allotted some $250,000, St. John says. “But I don’t think anyone really knows how much it would cost to repair because, up until now, they hadn’t done any studies.”

Results are expected in December and will be reported to the County Council in January, Moriguchi says.

Even though it is no longer accessible, the bridge continues to bring cultures and generations together, Moriguchi says. Kapaia Foundation was recently formed to preserve, restore and beautify the entire Kapaia Valley. Comprised of about a dozen charter group individuals, it is a collaboration of different cultures and ethnicities united in a neighborhood effort to bring the area back to life.

“We would eventually like to see it connect to the Kaua’i Path,” says St. John when asked about the foundation’s goals. “If they fix it, it will be in use again.

“Progress shouldn’t require bulldozing the past. There’s no reason you can’t bring the past with you,” he adds.

“This bridge has been here a long time. If it could talk, it could tell you stories,” Bran says.

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