Hawaii to Tear Down Oahu’s Historic Haiku Stairs

The World War II-era path is coming down due to "rampant illegal trespassing"

haiku stairs hawaii
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Hawaii's Instagram-famous Haiku Stairs, which are often cited as boasting the state's best views, are expected to be dismantled next year.

The decision comes from the Honolulu City Council, who spends approximately a quarter-of-a-million dollars each year on security to keep trespassers from hiking the 3,922 steps along Oahu's Koolau Mountain Range.

"Due to rampant illegal trespassing, Haiku Stairs is a significant liability and expense for the city, and impacts the quality of life for nearby residents," councilmember Ester Kiaaina told Hawaii News Now.

Originally installed by the U.S. Navy in the 1940s, the stairs were used as a way to access a top secret radio transmission station, where signals would be sent to naval ships far out in the Pacific. After falling into disuse, the trail was taken over by the U.S. Coast Guard in the 1970s. With the trail unofficially open to the public, it was common to spot an occasional intrepid hiker traipsing along the mountain in exchange for unforgettable bird’s-eye views over the island. 

Then, in the 1980s, the Haiku Stairs were featured on the "Magnum P.I." television show, starring Tom Selleck, and suddenly the tourists began flocking to what is now known as Hawaii’s "Stairway to Heaven." In 1987, the path was officially closed to the public due to liability concerns, vandalism, and trespassing violations, as all visitors must trespass on private property to access the stairs.

Undeterred, the tourists kept coming—something only made worse by the start of social media, specifically Instagram. Thanks to the ongoing pilgrimage to the stairs by social media mavens, the Haiku Stairs now fall under the feet of some 4,000 visitors each year. 

Several trespassers have been cited leaving trash, disrespecting the land, and/or vandalizing property—and local residents and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply (the current owner of the stairs and land) have had enough.

“With the advent of social media, instructions to illegally access Haiku Stairs are readily available, and prolific sharing of panoramic snapshots encourages people around the world to risk the climb,” stated the Honolulu Board of Water Supply in a June 2019 draft environmental impact report.

While fines for trespassing on the stairs clock in at $1,000 per offense, it’s not nearly enough to cover the cost of damage control or security. While the Honolulu Board of Water Supply was open to other solutions, none were presented, leaving Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi to side with the board’s request to tear down the stairs. 

“Fundamentally, it is inappropriate to have a high-use tourist attraction entering through this residential neighborhood, which lacks the capacity to provide appropriate facilities or parking,” Mayor Blangiardi said in a statement. “In addition, there is no unrestricted access to the stairs and the primary landowner at the base made it clear it is not interested in providing access. Consequently, my administration is aligned with the City Council’s resolution to remove the stairs and we intend to move forward with the necessary plans.”

While the plan to remove the stairs has yet to be formally approved by the mayor's office, it is likely that they will be torn down, at the cost of just under $1 million dollars, by mid-2022.

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