[ OUR OPINION ]
Beef up stairs’ closure
until access improves
DELAYS in reaching an agreement to create easy access to the 3,992-step "stairway to heaven" from Haiku up the Koolau Mountains are continuing to cause aggravation among nearby residents because of trespassers. The city has officially closed the stairs, and a single guard has provided ineffective enforcement. The city needs to increase measures to put the stairs off-limits to hikers until the problem of access is resolved.
Trespassers continue to gain entry to the Haiku Stairs, creating problems for families who live near the "stairway to heaven."
Built during World War II to reach a mountaintop Navy radio facility used to communicate with the U.S. fleet, the stairs gained public popularity after being shown in a 1981 episode of "Magnum P.I." As many as 400 people a weekend were drawn to the spectacular staircase following the television exposure and a Star-Bulletin feature. The Coast Guard, which took over the radio facility, estimated that 20,000 people a year were climbing up the stairs during the years that followed.
The stairs were shut down in 1987 because of vandalism, and construction of the H-3 highway kept them closed for a decade after that. The Coast Guard agreed to relinquish the stairs to the city, which repaired them at a cost of $875,000, mostly from federal grants. The stairs were scheduled to reopen a year ago, but the lack of public access stalled those plans.
The trouble was that Hope Chapel of Kaneohe Bay's agreement to have its parking lot used by hikers was overruled by its parent organization in August 2002. Negotiations between the city and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands over 147 acres of Haiku Valley relinquished by the federal government are not progressing well, according to department officials.
Publicity about the stairway's renovation and about the problem of access may have added to the flow of hikers to the legally closed stairway. Although a sign declaring "no access" stands at the stairway's first step, the nonprofit Friends of Haiku Stairs says hikers have gained access through holes in a fence surrounding the bottom part of the stairs or climbed over it.
Chris Anderson, a Haiku resident and a member of Friends of Haiku Stairs, says he has counted 20 to 25 people a day jumping over the fence, and that can increase to six or seven dozen on holidays. Rae Leong, who lives near the stairs, says hikers leave rubbish ranging from water bottles to baby diapers in yards, walk through flower beds and park in front of driveways, trash cans or mailboxes. Some hikers park their cars in the Hope Chapel lot without permission.
John Sabas, a representative of Mayor Harris, told the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board in June that the administration and City Council were not aware then of the extent of the problems, but they persist. The city should fix the fence and beef up enforcement of the closure until an access agreement can be reached.