Monday, May 27, 2024

This illegal Hawaii hike has caused controversy for years, now it’s being removed for good

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Starting this month, one of Hawaii’s most dangerous and controversial hikes will be permanently removed.

Oahu’s Stairway to Heaven trail, comprising 3,922 slick steel steps that ascend the narrow ridges of the Koolau Mountain Range, has been illegal to hike since 1987. Although trespassing cost hikers a $1,000 citation, thousands still attempted the trek for an Edenic view of the island. Social media helped propel the trail, also known as Haiku Stairs, into popularity. 

The process of dismantling the “aging, narrow metal stair structure” will begin with the removal of over 600 stair modules, according to a press release by the City and County of Honolulu. The entire project is expected to take six months.

During the Wednesday announcement, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said the removal is “long overdue.” 

“This decision that was made was predicated upon our respect for the people who live in and around the entrance to the stairs, our respect for our aina (land), and our respect for both the future and the past history of the culture of the Haiku community,” he added.

The City and County of Honolulu unanimously passed Resolution 21-154 in 2021 to remove the stairs as an effort to increase the quality of life for the nearby residents, improve public safety and preserve the natural beauty of the lush Haiku Valley. 

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Honolulu City Council Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina, who introduced the resolution, called the project “a new chapter for Haiku Valley” and the collective decision to eradicate the stairs is “for the good of the community” during the press conference, according to Hawaii New Now. 

“After decades of the community asking the government for relief, we had an obligation to make a decision and a decision that I knew would displease some people but at the end I had to look at a lot of variable factors,” Kiaaina, who has been involved in discussions around land management for Haiku Stairs for over two decades, told USA TODAY. She called it “a hard decision.”

For decades, residents who live near the stairs have been complaining of disturbances by hikers, who often hopped fences and trespassed onto private property during the middle of the night to catch the sunrise. Some hikers blocked people’s driveways and vandalized or urinated on people’s property, the resolution said. 

Between August 2017 and March 2020, police officers turned away 11,427 people attempting to hike the stairs by passing through the surrounding neighborhoods, according to the resolution. 

With its steep cliffs and unpredictable weather conditions, the trail is highly dangerous. Any mistake can result in a helicopter rescue, although there have not been any fatalities on record. Between 2010 and 2022, more than 188 people were rescued from the hike – paid for by taxpayers. With helicopter rescues costing thousands of dollars, a bill was introduced last year to make people pay for their own rescues, but it has not passed.    

Along with deconstructing the stairs, the project also includes the restoration of native plants in impacted areas. The project will also preserve some of the structure to honor the stair’s historical significance as a World War II military access route. 

“The wonderment is still there, that’s the natural beauty of the mauna (mountain) and Haiku Valley,” Kiaaina said. “The stairs itself served a purpose for U.S. national security purposes and that purpose is done. Separate from what people think, I feel part of the healing is for the mauna (mountain) and for the valley itself.”

The city stressed that the stairs will become even more perilous during construction and “present an immediate safety threat” to anyone who may try to sneak in a final hike. 

Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at kwong@usatoday.com.

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