“Stairway to paradise” or dangerous nuisance? A Hawaii monument is about to be scrapped.


With their dizzying views and lush terrain, Hawaii’s famous Haiku Stairs first caught thrill-seekers decades before Instagram, their footsteps winding through a mountain range and, at times, above the clouds.

Security guards, “No Entry” signs and the threat of fines did little to deter hikers from climbing 3,922 steps, known as the “Stairway to Heaven”. », To a former radio relay station used by the Navy during World War II. . Social media, critics say, has only emboldened them.

But the forbidden trail may be nearing its final stop: Last week, Honolulu’s mayor ordered the stairs removed, following a recommendation from city council, amid concerns about safety, trespassing and traffic. environment.

Officials said the Haiku stairs, which have no public entrance, are too difficult to maintain and create a nuisance for private landowners whose lands have been overrun by intruders. Honolulu has budgeted $ 1 million to dismantle the stairs, which could happen as early as next year.

In a September 14 statement, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said the community could no longer keep the stairs.

“We recognize the value of the stairs for certain community groups; However, issues such as trespassing, personal injury, invasive species and general public safety cannot be ignored, ”said Blangiardi. “Basically it is inappropriate to have a busy tourist attraction entering through this residential area, which does not have the capacity to provide proper facilities or parking. “

The decision punctuated a years-long debate over the fate of metal stairs and handrails, which some groups say should be preserved. Some sections of the stairs, which cut through mud and thick vegetation, shifted.

Friends of Haiku Stairs, a nonprofit group formed in 1987, vowed to try to block the pullout, which its chairman called “misguided.”

“Once the stairs are gone, they’re gone forever,” group chairman Dr Vernon Ansdell said on Tuesday.. “It is unique.

Dr Ansdell said the Haiku Stairs, built in 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor last December, and named for the valley below, had a relatively clean safety record. He said concerns about liability had been overblown and that up to 20,000 people climbed the stairs when they were open to the public and when the Coast Guard took control of access.

Thousands of people have continued to climb the stairs every year since they closed in 1987, according to the preservation group.

“It’s a staircase,” Dr Ansdell said. “There are railings. You go up and you go down. If you use a little common sense, you won’t hurt yourself. One person died of a heart attack. You can’t really blame the stairs for this.

Dr Ansdell said the majority of emergencies on the mountain involved people taking a different trail, adding that he had climbed the Haiku stairs 10 times.

But at a Honolulu city council meeting on September 8, the organization’s vice president expressed concerns about liability and said there were too many homeowners involved to come up with a plan. managed access for stairs.

“As we all know, due to widespread illegal trespassing, Haiku’s stairs represent a significant liability and expense for the city and impact the quality of life of nearby residents,” said the vice president of the city. advice, Esther Kia’aina. “I firmly believe that removing the stairs is the only viable option to mitigate the city’s liability, reduce disruption to local neighbors, increase public safety, and protect the environment.”

The board voted unanimously to recommend the removal of the Haiku Stairs, a move that The Honolulu Star-Advertiser endorsed in a July editorial titled “Time to Ditch the Haiku Stairs.”

“There are other safer legal hikes to reach awesome ridge views that anyone can enjoy,” the newspaper wrote.

Writing in the same journal a month later, Charles Burrows, a practitioner of Native Hawaiian culture and environmental science educator, said it would be a huge loss if the stairs were torn down. He noted that a million dollars of taxpayer money was spent in 2002 to repair the stairs.

“Anyone who climbed to the top of the Haiku stairs would never advocate tearing them down,” he wrote. “Can you imagine if we were to permanently close our beach parks like Sandy Beach, Hanauma Bay or Pipeline due to liability issues? They remain open despite an average of 65 drownings in the ocean here each year. “

Friends of Haiku Stairs offered to hand over control of the stairs to a private supplier, who would pay for security and maintenance through fees charged to hikers. Eighty people would climb the stairs per day as part of a managed access plan supported by the group, with an annual total capped at 20,000.

“We know hikers will pay to go there,” Dr Ansdell said.

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