Group offers plan to reopen, manage Haiku Stairs

Haiku Stairs

For nearly 30 years, hikers have been denied legal access to Haiku Stairs, also known as “the Stairway to Heaven.”

Now, there is a call to reopen the hiking trail, but only if all interested parties agree to a so-called “managed access plan.”

The stairway was blocked off in 1987, shortly after the U.S. Coast Guard closed down its station at the top of the stairs. Still, people brave the close to 4,000 metal steps to get to the top of the mountain on Windward Oahu, and also risk arrest.

Residents at the foot of the stairs have complained for years that hikers disrupt the quiet of their neighborhood.

In July 2014, the Haiku Stairs Working Group task force was assembled, made up of representatives from the Board of Water Supply, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Kamehameha Schools, residents, Windward Community College and native Hawaiian cultural practitioners. Their task: use the next 90 days to agree on a plan on what to do with Haiku Stairs.

Kaneohe resident Ken Rose was a member of that task force. “It was a positive experience and it was a feasible solution most of us could agree upon,” he said.

In its final report released on Thursday, the group concluded that it would be too expensive to dismantle the stairs. The cost was estimated at between $4 million and $5 million.

So it recommended that Haiku Stairs be reopened, but with a managed access point at Windward Community College.

“There were a couple of residents on the task force working group and our primary concern was safety and security of the residential area and our recommendation that got the most consensus was through a more public area,” Rose said.

The college says any access plan would have to meet three conditions, including ensuring that hikers park at nearby Kaneohe District Park, that hikers not disrupt students, faculty and staff at the college, and that whoever manages the hikers must also take care of the vegetation at the access point.

Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who represents the area where the stairway is located and who was instrumental in forming the group, said he plans to meet with Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Board of Water Supply’s chief engineer Ernest Lau.

“We need to get approval of the Board, through the chief engineer, to access the stairs. The Board of Water Supply actually owns the stairway as a means to protect the watershed in the area, and has recently taken steps to fence off the stairway,” Anderson explained.

Anderson says any cost to reopen and maintain the “managed access” could be borne by a non-profit, or third party, that would implement the business model that enables the stairway to be reopened and maintained.

The report, and any plan to reopen the stairway, must also be reviewed by all the landowners in the area.

In the meantime, Rose says he’s noticed a significant drop in the number of hikers trying to get to Haiku Stairs, a handful every day, ever since the BWS set up a 24-hour security guard service with the help of the Honolulu Police Department.

“They’ve been citing hikers, warning hikers and have had a great presence in our community over the last couple of months,” he said.

As for the fate of Haiku Stairs, Rose said “if we can make it work so people who are visiting our paradise can enjoy a great hike and learn something about the valley and we can have a safe and secure community, then it’s a win-win.”

Download the full report here (.pdf).

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