Haʻikū Stairs Back Where it Was 14 Years Ago

Aug 10, 2017

The fate of Hāʻiku Stairs could soon be returning to another agency of the City and County of Honolulu. Supporters of reopening the stairs say the move is more symbolic than it is significant. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi reports.

Fourteen years ago this month, the City and County of Honolulu was preparing for a grand re-opening of Haʻikū Stairs. Under Mayor Jeremy Harris, the City invested $875,000 to repair the stairs, but a last-minute complication in an agreement on parking for hikers forced all parties back to the drawing board. At the time, the City Parks and Recreation Department managed access to the stairs.

“They thought they had permission or that they were responsible for the land,” said Ansdell.

Vernon Ansdell is the President of the Friends of Haʻikū Stairs.

“And then Board of Water Supply realized that they actually had responsibility for the stairs,” says Ansdell.

The Board of Water Supply has expressed little interest in managing access itself, and is currently in the process of preparing an environmental impact statement on the best option for the Board moving forward. In yet another twist in the tale of Haʻikū Stairs, the Honolulu City Council yesterday approved a bill that includes a change in language to allow transfer of the stairs to another City agency.

“The editorial changes are simply to say City property instead of Board of Water Supply property. It’s not a critical change in terms of the effort to save the stairs,” says Gill, “But it is an indication of the Board of Water Supply’s intent and the council’s intent to transfer the property to a different City entity.”

Gary Gill is with the Friends of Haʻikū Stairs.

“What needs to happen is that the City should just transfer the property from the control of the Board of Water Supply, to a different City agency. Perhaps Parks?” says Gill.

The same entity that nearly reopened the stairs in August 2003.

“And then Parks Department can work with the community to appropriately manage the stairs – to maintain them, to make sure that they’re safe, and to make sure that access to the stairs doesn’t impact the surrounding residents,” says Gill.

Concerns over liability and impact to trailhead communities remain. The last entity to manage legal access to the 3,922-step Stairway to Heaven was the U.S. Coast Guard, and that was 30 years ago.

“You would go in through the usual access gate. Go up to the Omega Station, sign a waiver, and be allowed to climb up the stairs. And at that time the stairs were in not in a good state of repair, so it was quite an adventure,” says Ansdell, “And they were estimating at one time there may have been I believe 20,000 people a year doing that through the Coast Guard”