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The Ha‘ikū Stairs Trail, an Illegal Hiking Path in O’ahu, Will Be Demolished

If you’ve never hiked the Ha‘ikū Stairs trail on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu, you probably never will, because the stairs face demolition. It has been illegal to hike this path, sometimes called “the Stairway to Heaven,” for years, but people do it anyway. And that’s one reason the Honolulu government is taking the stairs down.

Last week, the city of Honolulu announced preparatory work on the Ha‘ikū Stairs removal project is officially underway. Workers will remove “more than 600 stair modules” comprising of 3,922 steel steps this month, according to a press release.

haiku stairs demolition
Image courtesy of Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s Facebook page

The U.S. military built the narrow metal stair structure, which ascends 2,820 feet along the ridge line of the Koolau Mountains, during World War II. The stairs lead up to a radio tower the military used during the war to communicate with Navy ships operating in the Pacific.

The hiking trail has been closed to the public since 1987, but visitors have continued to climb up the steep, unmaintained path, which is pretty sketchy in some places. A local news report suggests the Honolulu Fire Department has rescued 118 people who became stuck or injured on the path in the last 12 years.

Nowadays, there is often a guard at the trailhead, and hikers face a hefty fee if they’re caught climbing the stairs. But the danger, the fines, and the red tape don’t deter hikers who want to experience the famous hike for themselves—or who want to get that coveted photo for their Instagram feed.

The Road to Ha‘ikū Stairs Demolition

Since other tactics haven’t worked, the Honolulu government decided to take things to the next level. In 2021, officials voted to remove the stairs, not only because of safety concerns but also because trespassers disturb the neighbors who want peace. It’s nearly time for the project to get underway.

“The removal project prioritizes public safety, seeks to stop illegal trespassing on the stairs and nearby neighbors who have dealt with decades of disruptions and disturbances, addresses significant liability for the city, preserves the natural beauty and condition of the area and improves the quality of life for neighborhood residents in the area,” states a press release from the mayor’s office.

Haiku stairs demolition
Image by Darren Lawrence

The $2.5 million removal project will take at least six months to complete. The company contracted for the removal project will also spearhead efforts to re-vegetate impacted areas with native plants after the stairs and other infrastructure is down.

Should the Ha‘ikū Stairs come down, or is there another solution that would ensure public safety while also respecting the land and people?

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