Haiku Stairs: $3M Demolition or Grand Restoration?

Haiku Stairs: $3M Demolition or Grand Restoration?

The ever-popular and controversial Haiku stairs on Oahu will either be demolished by the county or saved by a group of citizens. How can this go back and forth for so many years? This 3,922-step trail to the 2,800-foot summit of Pu’u Keahiakahoe on the Windward Side of Oahu has been off-limits for decades. There’s a good reason for that which we will explain.

Honolulu City Council vs. Friends of Haiku Stairs.

While the city is intent on tearing the stairs down as quickly as possible, another group is just as intent on that not happening and on restoring the stairs for a new life.

The 36-year-old Friends of Haiku Stairs (FOHS) wants to preserve and improve the stairs and is suing to prevent their removal via helicopter. FOHS claims the city hasn’t completed the required environmental impact study for legal demolition.

“The stated purpose of the proposed action is the destruction of the Haiku Stairs, an iconic and historic monument consisting of a steel hiking trail structure of over 3,000 steps along Oahu’s Koolau mountain range.”

Friends of Haiku Stairs

Hawaii’s stairway to heaven.

The stairs have been officially closed for many years and it’s illegal to access them, but thousands of hikers each year still hike the metal staircase—even while parts are in very poor condition—that winds up the side of the Koolau Mountains in Kaneohe. The views from the stairs are truly among Hawaii’s best as is clear in the lead photo.

Friends of Haiku Stairs have a plan to restore access.

They envision a curated and managed experience similar to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. This would be a fee-based reservation system and include proactive guest safety management.

The road toward demolition began years ago.

Two years before the final decision, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which had owned and managed most of the land under and surrounding the stairs, asked for public comment to help draft an environmental impact statement. Stewardship has flipped between the board, the Coast Guard, and most recently, the city’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation.  

Cost of demolition has tripled since we last reported this.

The city agency proposed removing the stairs and said in 2021 that demolishing the staircase would cost about $900,000. Well, that price has tripled, and now the total estimate is $2.6 million, and that’s before it has even begun. We won’t hazard a guess as to the actual price.

The current cost is more than $250,000 annually to provide 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 neglected or in disrepair.

Previously, the agency had been open to transferring property ownership to another entity—public or private—to manage the land and access to the stairs.

Its important history dates back to World War II.

What started as the Kaiku Ladder saw construction start in 1942, after the Pearl Harbor attack. Its primary purpose was delivering materials and people needed to build and maintain a U.S. naval radio station located at the top of the ridge. The stairs’ construction —then made of wood—was top secret. Even the Army and other government officials were unaware of it. Later the ladder was replaced with a metal modular system which was anchored to the ground with spikes.

The U.S. Coast Guard, the stairs’ manager at the time, closed the trail to the public. That was in 1987. In 2002, the city spent $875,000 repairing the stairs and had plans to reopen them. Those plans fell through however due to complaints from the neighborhood in addition to liability concerns. Signsage and security guards have remained posted at the stair trail head since then. Nonetheless, hikers continue to find ways to access the Haiku Stairs, lured in part by the spectacular panoramic views and, of course, the idea of viral social media posts.

For years, the nonprofit Friends of Haiku Stairs has spearheaded alternative solutions to allow the group, which had performed maintenance on the stairs for years, to also manage public access and to limit the number of hikers who climb the stairs daily. The group proffered a detailed controlled access proposal which addressed concerns raised regarding access, trespassing, safety and more. According to FOHS, their proposal would be cost-effective, with fees covering maintenance, security, insurance, staffing, as well as a comprehensive educational program.

“Removing the stairs would be a tragedy of enormous proportions,” said Vernon Ansdell of FOHS. He said, “Managed access under a public-private partnership would be a very viable alternative.”

Controversial to the end.

Residents have lokng complained about hundreds of trespassers monthly who climb fences and otherwise trespassed to gain access.

The Friends of Haiku Stairs, however was saddened by the plans 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 all but certain, residents remain concerned that there could be another onslaught of persistent hikers wanting to access the stairs before destruction.

Please share your memories of Haiku Stairs. Do you favor a restoration plan?

Leave a Comment

Comment policy:
* No profanity, rudeness, personal attacks, or bullying.
* Hawaii focused only. General comments won't be published.
* No links or UPPER CASE text. English please.
* No duplicate posts or using multiple names.
* Use a real first name, last initial.
* Comments edited/published/responded to at our discretion.
* Beat of Hawaii has no relationship with our commentors.
* 750 character limit.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

11 thoughts on “Haiku Stairs: $3M Demolition or Grand Restoration?”

  1. We hiked it in 85 as a unit ,in the Marine corps,while stationed at kaneohe.When I left in 87 there was talk of closing it and I said”no way”who knew.hope they decide to fix it and reopen it, I’d love to give it another shot

  2. Hiking the Haiku stairs is a transformative experience.
    The view from the top engenders feelings of a desire to preserve the `aina and appreciate our home.
    The effort required to climb the stairs underlines the work necessary to keep our islands safe and intact.
    Don’t give up on Hawai`i!

  3. I say, scrap the rail, it’s a billion dollar fail, restore the Haiku Stairs, has more value and would bring more money into the state and would easily recover from the fail rail and not make our island so crowded already and just cause Elvis did “Blue Hawaii” our aina no need be blue but red as in righteousness and sovereignty for the people of Hawaii!! Respect our aina and those rulers before us that makes Hawaii a beautiful cultural and island!!

  4. Stairway to heaven needs to be restored. Stop the destruction of such a beautiful and historic place preserve and protect our Aina our beautiful mountains di not destroy it.

  5. OK, here’s a pie-in-the-sky (heh-heh) suggestion, from a former resident of Lanikai. Invest that $2.6 million and then some, into making it a tramway, or funicular car system, like those in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and the Jungfrau, in Switzerland. Given the costs it’s already incurring, it makes much more sense to make it a positive experience rather than trying to prohibit people’s enjoyment. It could be priced to break even, rather than having to incur losses from trying to keep people from enjoying themselves.

    Whenever you institute a rigid prohibition, you create a black market for the very good you are trying to regulate. When all you have is a bunch of lemons, make lemonade and sell it, rather than trying to maintain a police state.

  6. The mountains and these stairs belong to the people, just as much as our beaches belong to the people and should be managed to protect and preserve them.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly. The surrounding neighbors won’t get any of their “needed” relief. The commoners will continue to seek to conquer and admire the mountain ridge, with or without stairs to hold on to. I can’t even imagine being bothered by ppl simply wanting access to something so beautiful.

Scroll to Top