There has been a lot of chatter, lately, about the City and County of Honolulu reopening the popular hiking trail known as Haiku Stairs, or Stairway to Heaven. This comes after the recent citation of two visitors from Florida, who needed to be rescued from the trail. According to the Honolulu StarAdvertiser, a 32-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman spent the night on the Moanalua side of the mountains while en route to the summit of Haiku Stairs. Just a day later, recently elected Honolulu Mayor, Kirk Caldwell, stated that he would eventually like to see Haiku Stairs eventually re-opened (see video) and made accessible to the public again.
The thought of reopening the popular trail, which was originally closed in the 1987 and then rebuilt between 2002-2003 at a cost of $875,000, has produced mixed reactions not just from the hiking community, but throughout the state. Community residents living in Haiku Valley are especially sensitive to this topic. Many have reported rowdy behavior during the late night or early morning, vandalism, and even people walking through private residential property in order to access the stairs.
So is it worth opening Haiku Stairs? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons:
Pros of Reopening Haiku Stairs
- Legal access to the Haiku Stairs trailhead. Reopening the stairs means that the City would need to provide a legal point of access.
- No trespassing would be necessary. Those who are interested in viewing the summit for personal, educational, or fitness reasons, would be able to do so legally. There would be no need to walk through residential yards.
- Centralized parking would reduce neighborhood distractions. If a centralized parking area near the trailhead is assigned then that would eliminate the need to park in unsanctioned areas within Haiku Valley. This could potentially decrease the noise of hikers walking from their cars to the trailhead.
- There are potential parking area. According to Nate Yuen of Hawaiian Forest, the owners of Hui Ku Maoli Ola, have mentioned that they are willing to open up their parking to Haiku Stairs hikers. This is just one of the potential parking options.
- The Haiku Stairs provide a special opportunity to experience geology, plant life, scenery, and history. As stated in Major Jeremy Harris’s 1998 State of the City Address, ”Hiking the stairs offers spectacular views and an opportunity to see the unique geology and plant life of the Windward Oahu’s cliffs.”
- Non-hikers would be able to experience the summit. Since stairs lead to the summit, this would open up the trail to non-conventional hikers who would not be interested in or would be unable to complete the hike from Moanalua Valley, which takes many hours to finish.
- High tourism draw would provide an economical boost. The Haiku Stairs would be an attractive draw for eco-tourism and provide a boost to the economy.
Cons of Reopening Haiku Stairs
- It’s a disaster waiting to happen. There are portions of the trail that consist of steep ladder-like climbs, making these sections high risk areas for falling and injury.
- Liability is an issue. Who would be responsible if an accident were to happen on Haiku Stairs?
- Influx of visitors. Opening Haiku Stairs might cause an influx of visitors to Haiku Valley. This might cause increased street traffic, increased noise pollution, increased trash, and the potential for increased theft and robbery (considering thieves love to target locations popular with toursits).
- Haiku Stairs will no longer be special. Some hikers note that opening Haiku Stairs will, in effect, make hiking it not as “special” of an experience.
- Cost of annual maintenance and repair fees. Who would be responsible for paying for the upkeep of the stairs and any personnel necessary (i.e. parking attendent, security, guides, etc.)?
- The stairs would only be able to accomodate a certain number of people. There would have to be some limitation to the number of people using the stairs at any given time. For instance, you couldn’t possibly have 500 people on the stairs at one time.
- High tourism draw would cause the stairs to be overrun by tour groups.
It looks like we have a draw, of sorts. So lets take a closer look at the cons.
- It’s a disaster waiting to happen. Yes, there are portions of the trail that consist of steep ladder-like climbs. A possible “solution” to this could possible be age, weight, and height limitations. Signage should make it absolutely clear that you are risking your life by hiking this trail. Signage should also note that the risk of falling is very high. Other than that, there’s nothing that you can do prevent an accident from happening on this trail, or any other hiking trail.
- Liability is an issue. Have hikers fill out liability forms prior to hiking. Make sure that they are completely aware that if an accident were to happen, that they would be responsible for any injuries and the city/state would not be held responsible or liable.
- Influx of visitors. Sure, it might become a popular draw for tourist and cause an increase in traffic within the Haiku community. However, Manoa Falls is one of the states most popular tourist draws and the Manoa community has embraced it. The key here is to have a dedicated spot for visitors to park, thereby bypassing the need to park in residential areas. A parking attendant would help to reduce the chance of break-ins, but a security guard whose purpose was to patrol the parking lot would probably go farther in reducing noise pollution, vandalism, trash.
- Haiku Stairs will no longer be special. Some people might definitely feel this way. The main issue here is that crowds of people might detract from the natural beauty of the surrounding area. But really, crowding is an issue now, with the stairs currently closed. You have large numbers of people climbing the stairs during the wee of hours of morning, in order to by pass the security guard, and so you’re often left watching the sunrise with some 25, 50, or even 100 people or more on any given morning. By reopening the stairs, you can legally control the amount of people that go up the stairs.
- Cost of annual maintenance and repair fees. Who would be responsible for these fees? The people who visit and hike Haiku Stairs. Maybe charge a fee of $5 to $10 to visit and hike the stairs, as is done at Hanauma Bay. Kamaaina, of course, would be able to hike for free.
- The stairs would only be able to accomodate a certain number of people. This is a good thing and would go toward helping to reduce injury and noise pollution.
- High tourism draw would cause the stairs to be overrun by tour groups. Haiku Stairs would definitely be a huge draw for eco-toursim groups. Tour guides could charge anywhere from $50 to $200 or more to provide guided tours. We see this happening at other tourist locations that are free when done without guides. I would suggest that the city limit Haiku Stairs to individuals and not open it up to tour groups. This would be useful in reducing community traffic (no large tour busses or vans going in and out of Haiku Valley) and help to maintain the “special” feeling of the trail.
So there you have it, the pros and cons of opening Haiku Stairs. Do you agree? Would you like to see Haiku Stairs reopened to the general public? How would you go about handling this sensitive situation?
What can you do? Make sure that your position on Haiku Stairs is heard. Correspondance should be sent to Mayor Caldwell:
Email: Mayor Kirk Caldwell at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mail: 530 S. King Street, Rm. 300, Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: (808) 768-4141
Fax (808) 768-5552