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Contained in the Struggle to Save a Historic Hawaii Hike

We’ve all seen the photographs. A skinny chain of metal stairs and handrails climbs a verdant jungle ridgeline, misty skies on both aspect. Typically there’s a rainbow within the background. In brief: paradise on earth.

The Haʻikū/Haiku Stairs (higher often called the “Stairway to Heaven”) is maybe one of many world’s most photographed hikes, and definitely probably the most well-known hike in Hawaii. Likelihood is you’ve got seen the picture above (or one prefer it) earlier than studying this text. However though the three,900-step stairway is terribly widespread with hikers—each locals and mainlander vacationers—they’ve been “technically” closed to the general public for practically their whole existence. 

Constructed by the U.S. Navy throughout World Battle II to service a radio facility on a distant peak above Oahu’s Haʻikū Valley, this steep, winding path of metallic stairs was opened to the general public within the Nineteen Seventies, however quickly closed once more as a consequence of vandalism and overcrowding. Within the final fifty-odd years, possession modified palms a few instances, and the town even paid practically one million {dollars} to restore the steps in 2003, however they’ve stayed formally “closed” to the general public. (This, in fact, hasn’t stopped scores of hikers from climbing them.)

A rainbow over the Haiku Stairs on Oahu, Hawaii.
CREDIT: Pals of the Haiku Stairs

Nonprofit group Pals of Haʻikū Stairs (FHS) has been advocating for the route since 1987. The group previously led excursions up and down the hike, and has offered routine upkeep and maintenance—tightening bolts and clearing trash and overgrowth from across the route—up till 2021, when the town restricted their entry. 

However after the Honolulu Metropolis Council voted unanimously to demolish them in August of that 12 months, the battle to safe entry to the Haʻikū Stairs grew to become a literal battle to save lots of them. The steps had been scheduled to be dismantled and winched out by helicopter this month, in an effort reportedly siphoning metropolis tax {dollars} to the tune of $4.5 million. A lawsuit filed by the FHS has paused the demolition pending a court docket listening to scheduled for Might 10.

The World’s Most Controversial Staircase?

Why do individuals need to tear down the Haiku Stairs? 

The difficulty is difficult, says FHS treasurer and board member Ernest Shih, who has lived on Oahu for 40 years and runs a small espresso store, Cafe Kopi, within the city of Kailua, close to the bottom of the steps.

In accordance with Shih and the FHS, it’s not a query of “locals vs. vacationers” as some may assume. It is true that many of the hikers on Oahu are guests (the island hosts tens of millions of vacationers yearly). Nevertheless, the FHS additionally commissioned an unbiased survey of 5,000 residents in Kāneʻohe and the Haʻikū Valley in 2022, and greater than 90% favored preserving the Stairs. A Change.org petition additionally at present has over 12,000 signatures in assist of preservation.

“It’s a small and influential group of individuals, largely rich personal landowners close to the Stairs, who’ve an issue with it,” Shih mentioned. (Admittedly, these landowners have handled rampant trespassing, littering, and unlawful parking through the years.) 

A misty day on the Haiku Stairs, Oahu.
CREDIT: Pals of the Haiku Stairs

The FHS is not advocating for the retaining issues as they’re. Shih says they acknowledge the issues the steps have induced for the handful of neighbors. The group has constructed a publicly accessible 20-page plan for sustainable managed entry, together with safety, parking, and customer registration. “There are a number of methods to get to the steps with out going by that neighborhood,” Shih mentioned.

Former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell was in favor of retaining the steps, and 14 native entities—together with sprawling nature reserve Kualoa Ranch—responded to a public request for curiosity in managing the steps in 2020. Nevertheless, when new metropolis mayor Rick Blangiardi took over in early 2021, these plans had been scuttled in lieu of demolition.

“We do not care who manages it,” Shih mentioned. “We simply need to save the rattling factor. We’ve achieved a revenue evaluation, and the town might be making a ton of cash by preserving these stairs and opening them to the general public, as a substitute of spending all this cash to tear them down.” Present and previous points with trespassing are a moot level, Shih mentioned, as a result of, “Nobody has ever given managed entry a attempt.”

Along with the excessive price of elimination—which has already climbed from $1 million to $4.5 million—the FHS maintains elimination might trigger “severe hurt to endangered species dwelling in important habitats across the Stairs, and “soil runoff harming the downstream watershed main into Kāne‘ohe Bay.”

The Haiku Valley, with the H-3 highway center frame.
CREDIT: Pals of the Haiku Stairs

Will Removing Make Issues Higher, or Worse?

Even when it goes forward, FHS believes the eradicating the steps isn’t going to vary something. The elimination plan entails chopping the bolts anchoring the staircase and hauling the construction out piecemeal by helicopter, however the skeleton will nonetheless exist alongside the ridgeline, akin to chopped bolts on a sport climbing route. “Climbers are nonetheless going to come back and attempt to clip into these stakes to climb it,” Shih mentioned. “It’s not going to cease individuals.”

He could also be proper. At the same time as development crews started surrounding the steps upfront of its probably demolition within the final couple of weeks, lots of of hikers have obtained citations and warnings for attempting to climb the steps. 

Past the trespassing and littering, the price of rescues and safety on the steps are a number one case for elimination. The Honolulu Fireplace Division has rescued over 100 individuals on the Haiku Stairs since 2010. Nevertheless, statistics present that extra hikers are rescued on the circuitous authorized Moanalua “again route” to the highest of the staircase, and eradicating the Haiku Stairs could solely funnel hikers to this longer, riskier, and extra strenuous route. There have by no means been any deaths or severe accidents on account of a fall on the Haiku Stairs (although one hiker did die of a coronary heart assault from exertion), nor any lawsuits to the Metropolis of Honolulu.

Hikers descend the Haiku Stairs on Oahu.
CREDIT: Pals of the Haiku Stairs

The Haiku Stairs could also be Hawaii’s most well-known hike, nevertheless it’s not the primary legendary path to be threatened with demolition. From Lifeless Man’s Catwalk to Mariner’s Ridge, a variety of privately-owned hikes on Oahu have been shut down through the years for comparable considerations. Managed entry has additionally saved some, just like the Koko Crater Stairs, a defunct tramway line working to the summit of Pu’u Mai (1,211ft) that’s now open to the general public without cost due to administration and maintanence by an eponymous nonprofit.

“Look, if there was a public referendum on the steps, preservation would go simply,” Shih mentioned. “[The city council] smashed this vote by throughout COVID, when everybody was caught at house. You needed to make feedback on-line, you couldn’t go in particular person, and even then the vast majority of feedback had been like ‘No, we need to hold it.’ It could actually be a disgrace to lose the Stairs,” Shih continued. “They’re historic, might carry some huge cash to the town, and there are many teams on the market fascinated by managing entry safely and successfully.”

“This hike is widespread for a motive. It’s one-of-a-kind. It needs to be there for everybody to take pleasure in.”

Along with donating, readers are inspired to go to the Honolulu District Court docket at 1111 Alakea St. Honolulu, HI 96813 at 9:00 a.m. Might 10 to assist the FHS throughout their listening to.

The Stairway to Heaven/Haiku Stairs on Oahu, Hawaii.
CREDIT: Pals of the Haiku Stairs