Saving Haiku Stairs
It's a darn shame.
We have this unique treasure on Oahu, and saving it is going to be a gargantuan effort, yet the powers that be do not want to make the effort. The Haiku Stairs, better known as "Stairway to Heaven," appear to be headed for dismantlement by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.
The Friends of Haiku Stairs recently started a change.org petition asking the Board of Water Supply to save the unique and historic stairs from destruction. There have been other change.org petitions seeking to save the stairs before, including this one petitioning Sen. Mazie Hirono five months ago. That one received 3,438 supporters. This one has the most signatures, so far, with 4,135 supporters as of Wednesday. It just needs another 865 to reach its goal of 5,000.
In May, the Board of Water Supply's directors agreed to spend $500,000 to study how the stairs can be removed following a landslide that damaged a portion of the stairs earlier this year. It expressed interest in transferring ownership of the stairs to another entity. But the National Park Service isn't interested in taking over the stairs. Nor is the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
"What we want to do is not to spend that half a million," said Vernon Ansdell, president of Friends of Haiku Stairs. "I think by doing that, they [the Board of Water Supply] are implying that their goal is to remove the stairs. We want to try and convince them, with this petition, there is an enormous amount of support out there to preserve the stairs."
Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who once supported reopening the stairs, believes all options have been exhausted. A working group with all the various stakeholders and agencies was formed last summer. So far, no other government entity has stepped forward, expressing interest in taking over ownership of the stairs.
"I commend this group of people for coming forward and I understand their desire to open the stairs," said Anderson. "I share that desire, provided we can turn the stairs over to a government entity as required by the Board of Water, provided that we can also offer an area with controlled access and managed hiking. Really, I think that time frame has come and gone."
Residents in the neighborhood have been patient with trespassing hikers, he added.
"We need to give relief to the residents," he said. "And we need to do that sooner rather than later."
The stairs, which have been closed for 28 years, feature more than 3,900 stairs stretching about two miles up the Koolaus, which are accessible from the Kaneohe neighborhood. The U.S. Navy built the stairs during World War II as part of a communications network. People have been hiking it illegally. In 2014, the Star-Advertiser reported 135 citations issued for trespassing on Haiku Stairs, along with 100 warnings and six arrests.
The petition, which the Friends plan to present at a board meeting Aug. 24, describes the stairs as "legendary to hikers and climbing enthusiasts from all over the world, offering panoramic views of Oahu and a valuable opportunity to study Hawaiian history, culture, as well as native plant and animal life."
With managed access, and everyone working together to address issues of concern, Ansdell said it is possible to keep the stairs open.
"Many years ago, when the U.S. Coast Guard were in control of the stairs," he said, "people would go up into the valley, park, sign waivers, climb the stairs, come down and drive off again. It worked incredibly well. It didn't go through the neighborhood and interfere with anyone in that neighborhood."
Up to two years ago, the Friends used to go up the stairs to remove invasive species. The group offered to fix the damage that resulted from the landslide, according to Ansdell. But the Board of Water Supply declined the offer.
"We think the damage is very superficial," he said. "We're 100 percent sure it's just damage to the railings. We don't think it would cost that much, and we would raise the funds to do it."
The stairs also provide an unparalleled cultural and historical experience, he said. There are native Hawaiian plants, including rare and endangered species at the summit confirmed by experts from Bishop Museum. He said the stairs, with railings, are also safe as long as people use common sense and do not stray off the steps.
"The views are spectacular," said Ansdell. "When you're on the stairs, the whole valley and ahupua‘a opens up...When you get to the summit, it's almost spiritual."
Clearly, the public is interested in keeping the stairs open. From people who have proposed marriage on the steps to a veteran who used the steps for rehab after recovering from an injury, the petition has struck a chord. It's been signed by people from throughout Hawaii as well as the U.S. and globe.
"I'm very pleased with the response," said Ansdell. "I think if nothing else, it shows that there is support. When you read it, you see the passion people have for the stairs."
Here's a sampling of comments from those who signed the petition:
"Because some cultural wonders must be preserved."
— Chris Gray, Kailua, Hawaii
"If Zion can have Angel's Landing, and Yosemite can have Half Dome, Hawaii should have Haiku Stairs!!!"
– Greg Parsons of Danvers, Mass.
"As someone who has a strong appreciation for nature and the outdoors, which is an idea that the Hawaiian islands exemplify, I see no good reason to destroy something that was restored to give appreciation to the nature and beauty that the islands have to offer. The risks are inherent, and people have have already said that they're willing to pay for access. But removing the stairs entirely is just an easy way out to a problem that can be solved by people coming together."
— Ken McCann of Vail. Colo.
"It's part of our history in Hawaii. It's better to have it open, regulated, with warnings than closed, unregulated, and o warnings about the danger that you are going into."
— Gernell Yamada, Honolulu
With enough public will, maybe we could save these stairs for future generations to come. The petition urges the Board of Water Supply to work with stakeholders to create a managed access plan, solve illegal hiking problems and save the stairs.