Hawaii officials have announced plans to spend $1m removing a popular mountain trail known as the Stairway to Heaven, which they say has become the scene of “rampant illegal trespassing” and safety concerns despite the public being banned from using it.
Tens of thousands of people have climbed the Haiku Stairs, which span nearly 4,000 steps across Oahu’s Ko’olau mountain range, since the US navy built the trail during the second world war. Though the public has been forbidden from the stairs since 1987, numerous people continued to use them, despite no trespassing signs and fines of up to $1,000.
“Due to rampant illegal trespassing, Haiku Stairs is a significant liability and expense for the city, and impacts the quality of life for nearby residents,” councilmember Esther Kiaʻāina told Hawaii News Now.
The hike, with its stunning views of Kāneʻohe Bay and verdant landscape, has for decades drawn tourists and, in more recent years, social media influencers.
The city council voted unanimously to permanently remove the staircase, citing nearly $1m in taxpayer funds already spent to remodel the stairs, as part of a project to establish a cultural and recreational park in the area, and thousands of dollars in security expenses. The mayor ordered the removal of the stairs last week.
“We recognize the interest the stairs have to certain community groups; however, issues such as trespassing, personal injuries, invasive species and overall safety of the public cannot be ignored,” said Rick Blangiardi, the city’s mayor, to the Honolulu Civil Beat. “Fundamentally, it is inappropriate to have a high-use tourist attraction entering through this residential neighborhood, which lacks in the capacity to provide appropriate facilities or parking.”
Honolulu has budgeted $1m to remove the stairs, a project that could happen as soon as next year. The US navy built the stairs in 1942 to provide access to a radio relay station. Though trespassing is an ongoing issue, there has never been a serious injury or death due to an accident on the stairs, said Vernon Ansdell, the president of Friends of Haiku Stairs, a volunteer group that aims to preserve the trail.
“It’s probably one of the safest hiking trails in Hawaii,” Ansdell wrote in the Honolulu Civil Beat. “Removal of the stairs will … result in significantly more injuries and rescues.”
The decision to remove the stairs has sparked outrage among some in the community.
“Anyone who has climbed to the top of Haiku Stairs would never advocate tearing them down. The cable house at the summit sits close to the magnificent peak of Puukeahiakahoe,” wrote Charles Pe‘ape‘a Makawalu Kekuewa Burrows in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “The astounding wonder and glory of Koolaupoko surrounds you and commands heightened awareness of your responsibility to respect and care for all that encompasses you.”
Friends of Haiku Stairs has pledged to fight the removal and says it has developed a plan to reopen the stairs with managed access that would address safety and trespassing concerns and could be operated at no cost to taxpayers.