The fate of famed Haiku Stairs, a 3,922-step trail to the 2,800-foot summit of Puu Keahiakahoe on the Windward Side of Oahu, has been long debated. But no longer. The Honolulu City Council and the Mayor have finally decided that the stairs will be torn down.
Known as the stairway to heaven.
The stairs have been officially closed for decades and are illegal to access, but, every year, thousands of hikers still brave the metal staircase—parts of it in poor condition—that snakes up the side of the Koolau Mountains in Kaneohe. We can personally attest to the views from the stairs being among the best in Hawaii.
The road towards demolition began years ago.
Two years before this final decision, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which owns and manages most of the land under and surrounding the stairs, asked for public comment to help draft an environmental impact statement. The city agency proposed removing the stairs entirely and said then it would cost about $900,000 to demolish the staircase.
Right now, the board spends about $250,000 a year to pay for 24-hour security to keep hikers from accessing the stairs. The agency is also concerned about potential liability and safety concerns due to the condition of the stairs. (In some parts, the report noted, sections are dilapidated or in disrepair.)
Previously, the agency was open to the idea of transferring ownership of the property to another entity—public or private—to manage the land (and access to the stairs).
Its important history dates back to World War II.
Construction on the stairway, originally called the Haiku Ladder, started in 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, according to the report. Its purpose was to deliver people and materials to build and service a U.S. naval radio station at the top of the ridge. The construction of these stairs—then made of wood—was top secret, according to the report, that even the Army and other government entities were unaware of it. Eventually, the ladder was replaced with a steel module system that was anchored to the ground with spikes.
In 1987 the U.S. Coast Guard, which managed the stairs at the time, closed the trail to the public. And in 2002, the city spent $875,000 to repair the stairs and railings with plans to open them; those plans fell through due to complaints from the neighborhood and liability concerns. Security guards and signs have been posted at the trailhead ever since. Still, hikers continue to find ways to access the stairs, lured by the spectacular panoramic views and social media posts.
Vernon Ansdell, president of the nonprofit Friends of Haiku Stairs, had proposed an alternate solution 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. The group offered a very detailed managed access proposal that he says addressed the concerns raised in the report regarding access, trespassing, and safety. And it would be cost-effective, with fees covers maintenance, security, insurance, staffing, and a comprehensive educational program.
“Removing the stairs would be a tragedy of enormous proportions,” Ansdell says. “Managed access under a public private partnership would be a very viable alternative.”
Controversial to the end.
Residents complained about hundreds of trespassers monthly who climbed fences and otherwise trespassed to gain access.
The Friends of Haiku Stairs, however, was saddened by the decision to destroy the stairs “It’s a great example of a vocal minority who are capable of making stuff up.” — Vernon Ansdell, Friends of Haiku Stairs.
And now, since the demolition is certain, residents are concerned that there will be yet a further onslaught of hikers who want to access the stairs before their destruction.
How and when: demolition plan uncertain.
How the city plans to demolish Haiku stairs is not clear. The city hopes to arrive at a plan in the next few months. The cost to demolish the stairs is estimated at $1 million.
Please share what you remember about Haiku Stairs.