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Controversial “Stairway to Heaven” Hiking Trail May Be Demolished

The 3,922-step trail has been the subject of debate for years.


Haiku Stairs

Photo: michael keany


The fate of the Ha‘ikū Stairs may soon be decided—finally.


What should happen with the 3,922-step trail to the 2,800-foot summit of Pu‘u Keahiakahoe overlooking Ha‘ikū Valley has been the subject of debate for years. In 2002, the city spent $875,000 to repair the stairs and railings with plans to open the trail to the public. (The U.S. Coast Guard closed the dilapidated stairs in 1987.) But the city never reopened the trail, due to complaints from the neighborhood—hikers trespassing on their property, blocking driveways, waking residents—and liability concerns.


This May, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which owns and manages the land under and surrounding Ha‘ikū Stairs, asked for public comment to help draft an environmental impact statement that proposes removing the stairs entirely. According to the board, it costs nearly $200,000 a year to pay for 24-hour security to keep hikers from accessing the stairs. The process to remove the stairs would take five to six years and the study will determine the cost to demolish them.


“We’re committed to looking at every option,” says BWS spokesperson Kathleen Elliot-Pahinui. “There’s a lot of work that we have to do. It won’t be a quick process to do this correctly.”


The agency received more than 700 responses when the comment period ended on May 23. Some, including one from the nonprofit Friends of Ha‘ikū Stairs, offered alternatives.


“It’s probably one of the safest hiking trails in Hawai‘i. It’s a staircase. You go up and down.”–Vernon Ansdell


Vernon Ansdell, a semiretired physician and president of the Friends of Ha‘ikū Stairs, says one solution is to allow the group, which had done maintenance on the stairs for years, to manage public access and limit the number of daily hikers who climb the stairs. He proposes starting a shuttle service to the trailhead to minimize traffic in the residential area and charge a fee to hikers to help offset the cost. Ansdell says the hikes would be guided and include safety briefings, which can help prevent injuries and the need to rescue people who venture off the trail.


It will take about a year for the board to complete the report, which still needs to circulate to neighborhood boards and public meetings before a final statement is written. Then there will be a 45-day period for public comments before the board decides what to do.


Until then, the stairs remain closed.




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Honolulu Magazine March 2018
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