The Haiku stairs, commonly known as the Stairway to Heaven, is a popular tourist location in Oahu and rightly so due to the stunning view of Aiea bay and the Ko’olau mountain range it offers. The stairway, clearly visible from the H3 interstate in front of the Tetsuo Harano tunnel, is illegal to climb due to a large storm in 2015 that caused a landslide which badly damaged some sections of the stairs built during World War II (1942-1943). The damage to the stairs has not deterred hikers who choose to use the illegal route so residents near the entrance to the stairs now have trespassing and littering issues and people occasionally get injured and have to be rescued by helicopter from the unstable trail. This has caused a recent push for something to be done about the stairs which has presented two increasingly plausible options: to either tear down the stairs altogether or spend state funds on refurbishing the stairs into a legal tourist attraction.
Science teacher and Environmental Club advisor, Daniella Griffay, stated, “What makes it the most difficult to actually make into a legal hike is no one entity owns all of the stairs, mountain, and access road.”
The split between residents, city council (who mostly want to see the stairs torn down due to the inconvenience of trespassers and extra costs that go into managing the stairs), and Friends of The Haiku Stairs (an organization of those set on protecting the stairs) has even caught media attention. Many local channels such as KHON2 news, who have been following the great stair debate for about four years now, came out with a huge development in the fate of the Haiku Stairs in what has essentially been a stalemate for quite some time. On September 11, City council voted unanimously to remove the stairs completely and Oahu mayor Rick Blangiardi, said on September 15 that he would do just that.
Griffay, who has hiked the stairs legally (the back route through Moanalua Valley) about a dozen times since 2017 said that “the stairs should not be torn down but should be properly managed and maintained.”
Griffay along with other like-minded people believe that the state could benefit financially from fixing up the stairs to make them a functioning tourist attraction. There are also significantly more rescues and deaths on Diamond Head, a legal attraction, with not a single death caused due to the Haiku Stairs.
On the other hand, residents of the neighborhood which hikers sneak through are tired of trespassing at early hours and littering and the city has to spend extra on rescues and stationing police to guard the illegal side of the stairs to keep people from climbing. Some Hawaiians say that ancestral bones (iwi) are buried there which they would not want disturbed by hikers. The condition of the stairs will keep deteriorating, making it more unsafe and the city did propose to foot the bill of reconstruction in 2003 yet found it to be around $1 million, which was out of budget. According to the council, the cheapest, quickest solution for the city would be tearing down the stairs.
“We all see how long it has taken the state to do the Rail,” Griffay said, “Do we really want to spend more time and money on demolishing the stairs?” As an alternative to both demolishing and repairing the stairs, Griffay proposed that Kualoa Ranch could buy and move the stairs to their valley where they would enjoy the benefits of the fame of the stairs and not have to make their own. This would also eliminate the problem for locals because they could be placed in a non-residential area with the proper accommodations for a tourist attraction.
It is clear that whatever it is, something must be done about the Stairway to Heaven and soon. An increasingly popular trail with frequent travel that is not being inspected nor serviced is just a recipe for disaster and the permanent closure of a once in a lifetime hike due to a catastrophic accident.