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One of Hawai’i’s Most Popular (and Controversial) Attractions Being Demolished

by Aoife O’Riordan

May 1, 2024

© Misha Kreker | Dreamstime.com

eFlyer Lead

If you haven’t actually climbed them, you’ve seen beautiful photos of them at one time or another: Hawai’i’s Stairway to Heaven, located on Oahu. The 3,922-step hike ascends Koolau Mountain Range and has been illegal to hike since 1987. But this has not stopped travelers and locals from doing so, even with a steep fine of $1,000 for trespassing.

The draw to the steps is its scenic views on the way up and at the top. In 2021, the city of Honolulu voted to remove the stairs entirely and, as of April 10, the city announced its decision to officially begin removing the stairs as early as this month. Since the announcement, many continue to flock to the site to get in the bucket-list hike (or their final hike of many).

While no serious injuries or accidental deaths on the stairs have ever occurred or been reported, risks of hiking the sleek and steep stairs increase with time as the aging stairs continue to deteriorate. Some trespassings have resulted in rescue missions. In September 2023, a woman and her dog had to be airlifted by helicopter after falling 50 feet.

“This was a decision, when we came into office, that was long overdue. Over the course of many months, in meeting with the people involved and the discovery that we put into it, I can promise you that this was not a capricious decision,” said Mayor Rick Blangiardi in a statement. “This decision that was made was predicated upon our respect for the people who live in and around the entrance to the stairs, our respect for our ʻāina, and our respect for both the future and the past history of the culture of the Haʻikū community.”

The stairs, also known as the Ha‘ikū Stairs, were built by the military in World War II to connect to a radio station. Both the station and trail were closed to the public in 1987, but efforts to reopen the stairs began in 2003, with reparations going into the stairs to allow the public to walk the trail once more. But the stairs never officially reopened and no public access spots opened for travelers to ascend them.

The removal of the stairs is expected to cost nearly $2.5 million and is expected to take six months. The project will also restore native plants to the area and preserve some of the structure to honor the stairs’ significance as a World War II military access route.

Social media is one of the main causes of Stairway to Heaven’s popularity in recent years. Images and videos of those trespassing to take the climb inspired many others to try the same. In a 2.5-year span (August 2017–March 2020), police caught and stopped nearly 11,500 people from accessing the stairs.

What are your thoughts on the removal of the stairs? Did you ever hike the Stairway to Heaven? Do you think the stairs should be removed? Tell us your thoughts. Email us at [email protected]. Please include your full name and location.

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