KUKUIHAELE, Hawaii – Businesses in Kukuihaele are trying to adjust now that the Waipi’o Valley Access Road has been closed for over a month due to an island-wide dengue fever outbreak.
“The economic impact of the valley closures going to be significant, and impact a lot of people,” said Elise Mastronardo, the co-owner of the Waipi’o Valley Artworks, about a week after the valley access was first closed on January 13. “Not only valley residents, but residents of the village. Employees of the tours. People in Honoka’a who count on people coming out to Waipi’o Valley to stop at their shops and even their restaurants. Then the trickle-down effect of the horse rides not doing as much business, not buying as much feed.”
The mosquito-borne dengue fever disease has infected over 250 people on Hawaii Island since an outbreak began in September 2015. There have been no deaths but those who catch the illness report severe pain, high fever and sometimes a rash. The government response has included restricting visits at three popular seaside locations on the island. Waipi’o Valley is one. The other two are Ho’okena and Miloli’i Beach parks.
In the first few weeks of the Waip’io Valley closure, owners noticed a drop in business.
“Based on the last two days,” Mastronardo said, “I would say we’re operating at about thirty percent of our regular business. On a normal day in January… the parking lot across the street would be full, we would have people out here on the lanai, we would have people waiting for tours. It would be a very busy, hustling environment from 8 o’clock in the morning until 5 o’clock in the afternoon when we close our doors. And today it is extremely quiet. You can see there are just a couple cars in the parking lot across the street, which is again indicative of the kind of economic impact this going to have.”
There are still things to visitors to do if they take the trip to the area, even if they can’t go down into the valley. Mastronardo says she hopes people will consider taking a tour above the valley. And Waipi’o Valley Artworks is still open.
“The gallery is the meeting spot for four of the tours that service the area,” Mastronardo said. “Two of the tours that go down into the valley and two of the tours that go above the valley. Waipi’o Valley Shuttle and Na’alapa Stables are tours that go down into the valley. They have made arrangements with Kukuihaele Farms, which has the lease on the property above the valley – along the rim of the valley that the other tours operate on – to continue to be able to operate abbreviated versions of their tours. And that will be an alternative to help keep their employees employed and to keep their businesses alive.”
The scenic Waipi’o Valley Lookout is still open, too. It was only closed for a few hours on Feb. 12 in order to “proactively spray” for mosquitoes. “They can still come out to this area and look at the beautiful view from the lookout point,” Mastronardo said of visitors, “take a tour above the valley – which is actually extraordinarily beautiful, it’s a totally different perspective – and you can still come out to this area safely. Visit the gallery – have some tropical drinks, homemade ice cream, look at the koa and the beautiful woodworking – continue to support the local artists and the local community of workers.”
You can also visit the gallery online, at waipiovalleyartworks.com.