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Frequently Asked Questions

Here, you'll find the answers to all of our most frequently asked and relevant questions about who we are and the work we do, the Stairs, and our lawsuit.

If you have any further questions, feel free to contact us at or DM us on our social media accounts.

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General Stairs Questions

Are the Stairs open? Can I still climb them?

No, the Haʻikū Stairs are currently closed and illegal to access, no matter how you access them. There are no legal tours of the Stairs, or any guides with special permission to hike them. Persons caught attempting to access the Stairs are liable for a trespassing citation and a $1000 fine.

Why should we try to save the Haʻikū Stairs if the City Council has already approved a budget to remove them?

Removal was estimated to cost $1 million in 2021; it went up to $1.3 million in 2022. The latest projected cost in the Site Plan Permit that DDC submitted to OCCL is now $4.28 million. The City has failed, so far, to provide a fully detailed project budget so taxpayers can see exactly what is covered in their multi-million dollar removal plans.


When you add up all the likely costs of removal, permitting, mitigation and remediation, it's easy to get to a figure of $10 million+. The upper bound of removal costs remains unknown because, as we know, public construction projects in Hawaiʻi have a habit of running into overruns and unexpected complexities. Furthermore, the Haʻikū Stairs are situated in a geologically unstable and ecologically sensitive terrain that is prone to extreme weather. It is far from clear that political will exists to fund an endless money pit dedicated to a destructive act that the majority of Oʻahu voters oppose. The City has tried to railroad this process through an undemocratic and nontransparent fashion.  This will come back to bite them.

Are the Stairs dangerous?

The Haʻikū Stairs are the safest way to climb to the peak of Puʻu Keahiakahoe. There have been 0 deaths or serious injuries from a fall and 0 lawsuits in the 80-year history of the Haʻikū Stairs. Up to 20,000 people per year used to climb the Stairs when they were open legally during the Coast Guard era. There were no injuries, no rescues, and no issues with trespassing. The steel handrails and non-slip steel tread on the steps allow for a safe trip up and back down. The helicopter rescues often reported being from the Stairs are from nearby hikes or trails, like the unsanctioned Moanalua Backway trail (read more about this trail below).


What about the people who have gotten lost or went missing trying to hike the Stairs, like Daylenn Pua?

The Stairs have one path up and down the mountain. It is difficult, if not almost impossible, to get lost unless you step off the pathway of the Stairs. Reports of people who have gotten lost are often cited as having happened while hikers tried to hike the Stairs when, oftentimes, they were climbing up the Moanalua Backway. 


The disappearance of Daylenn “Moke” Pua was a tragedy that occurred in 2015. The Big Island teen was reported to have gone missing while trying to reach the summit of the Haʻikū Stairs. This story has been widely told and reported, making national news at the time. The circumstances of Daylenn’s disappearance has since been clarified by a thorough investigation, including eye witness reports, cell phone records, and video footage.


Daylenn almost certainly died trying to go up the Moanalua Backway. A subsequent police investigation backed by eyewitness accounts and cellphone records have confirmed that Daylenn was aiming for the Middle Ridge Trail, made a wrong turn, and ended up at the top of Kulana'ahane at the saddle. Daylenn sent a photo from there, as documented here


The Haʻikū Stairs provide a safer path for hikers to explore and appreciate nature. One clear path up and down, non-slip steel steps, and handrails on both sides offer much greater security than most other hikes on the island.


Can’t people just hike up the Moanalua Backway instead of the Stairs?

The Moanalua Valley Trail, or Moanalua Backway, is an unsanctioned alternative trail that hikers have been using to climb the mountain, and we do not endorse hiking it. This route is exponentially more dangerous than the Haʻikū Stairs, having been the cause of numerous injuries, lost hikers, helicopter rescues, and at least one probable fatality (see previous story).  Not only is the Moanalua route dangerous for hikers, it causes untold destruction to the land. There is catastrophic erosion on the mountainside as a result of a constant stream of hikers using spikes and ropes to climb their way up the mountain. 

The Haʻikū Stairs, as they are, cause no damage to the surrounding land. The elevated metal structure keeps hikers from trampling on foliage, and they provide a much safer path to the mountain’s summit. If the Stairs are removed, hikers would likely continue to climb the leftover trail, turning it into an eroded and dangerous route, like the Moanalua Backway.

Who would take over management of the Stairs if they were to reopen? 

In 2020, the Caldwell administration put out a request for proposals from groups interested in managing the Stairs. Fourteen different groups expressed interest and submitted detailed proposals (including Kualoa Ranch, Ko‘olau Foundation, Hui Ku Maoli Ola, and our own organization). None of these proposals were acted on before the Mayor's administration ended and the new City Council proposed the destruction of the Stairs. FHS is willing to take over management of the Stairs in cooperation with other local organizations to ensure they are operated in a culturally and environmentally respectful manner that gives back to the immediate community.

Would removal of the Stairs stop trespassing?

No. Removing the Stairs will not prevent hikers from climbing the southeastern ridge of Haʻikū Valley (Moanalua Valley). Images of the panoramic vistas the Stairs afford are widely promoted on social media, and “the Stairway to Heaven” mystique will continue to stoke demand to visit this place. The City’s proposed partial removal will only eliminate the safe and easy Stairway access toward the summit, as BWS’ 2019 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) admits: Because the City plans to remove only the Stairs modules while leaving the supporting anchor pillars bolted in place, the remnants will function as an attractive nuisance. Climbers will attach ropes to this ready-made scaffolding and scramble up the mountain. Even if fewer hikers attempt this climb, they will do so at greater safety risk, heightened environmental harm (causing erosion, spreading invasive species, trampling endangered native plants) and perpetuating the City’s liability exposure. Already, hikers have been thronging to the far more dangerous Moanalua Middle Trail. This is a much longer route to the Stairs summit with steep drop-offs and badly eroded footing.

How much would it cost to reopen and maintain the Stairs?

If the City agreed to reopen the Stairs, FHS would fix them how they always have: through crowdfunding, donated materials, and volunteer labor. FHS was founded as a maintenance group for the Stairs and led volunteer missions to repair the Stairs for decades. We tightened bolts, replaced handrails, hauled out trash, and remove invasive species for decades--continuing to operate with the City's permission even after the Stairs were closed to the public. We have civil and structural engineers on our board and thousands of eager volunteers, ready to help us continue our mission without cost to taxpayers.

Who will assume liability for the Stairs, and how will that be managed?

Given management access, Friends of Haʻikū Stairs would assume all liability for the Stairs. In the past we have maintained liability insurance and collected waivers from volunteers, given safety briefings and used spotters to assess rapidly changing weather conditions. We maintain a 100% safety record on our Haʻikū Stairs maintenance days.​

The City admitted in recent hearings that they have never been sued for an accident or injury on the Haʻikū Stairs in the historic structure's entire 80 year history, reinforcing our claims of safety regarding the Stairs.

Would managed access actually work for the Stairs?

Managed access already does work at Hanauma Bay and at Lēʻahi (Diamond Head). Managed access to the Haʻikū Stairs would generate revenues to cover costs associated with maintenance and would provide access to the Stairs away from the neighborhood. 

Under managed access, the Stairs could be traversed by paid guides and overseen by Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and environmental experts to ensure a safe, sustainable experience that respects the ʻāina and cultural protocols. Hiring locally would ensure that jobs benefit the community. Surplus revenues would be reinvested in community institutions, environmental restoration, and cultural stewardship to benefit local stakeholders.

Are the Stairs on sacred land, important to Hawaiians and their culture?

There is nothing sacred about the land on which the Stairs rest that differentiates it from any of the countless hiking trails on O’ahu that ascend to a summit view.  It is true that generally the highest peaks and uninhabited areas of the mountains were considered wao akua or realm of the spirits under the kapu system. The kapu system forbade many things including the ability of men and women to eat the same foods at the same table (ʻai kapu). It was publicly abolished in 1819 by the young Liloliho, son of Kamehameha I, at the behest of high-ranking aliʻi such as Kaʻahumanu and Keōpūolani.

Isn't the existence of the Stairs a reminder for some native Hawaiians of the current illegal occupation of Hawai’i?

Yes. Much of the ahupuaʻa of Heʻeia, from mauka to makai has been negatively impacted by military occupation or is still under military occupation. An 1851 map detailing the post-māhele lands overseen by Abner Pākī show five kalo loʻi in the ili of Haʻikū that no longer exist. Heiau that existed in the valley were bulldozed during the building of the 1942 telecommunications complex. Jet fuel and gasoline containing PCBs were used to defoliate Haʻikū Valley between 1973 and 1983. That said, many native Hawaiians have come to value the Stairs as a cultural and recreational resource. Cultural practitioners have also taken advantage of the unique access that the Stairs provides to reach native plants for gathering and educational purposes.  A 2022 poll showed that a majority of native Hawaiians favored preserving the Stairs under managed access.

Don't you think public recreational use is incompatible with a residential neighborhood?

The Stairs are on empty public land, they are surrounded on all sides by empty publicly owned lands. The closest house is about 1/5 mile away. There are roads on both sides that bypass residential neighborhoods and would allow public access without disturbing residents.

FHS & What We Are Doing

Who are Friends of Haʻikū Stairs, and what do you do?

Friends of Haʻikū Stairs (FHS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has used volunteer labor and donations to protect and maintain the historic Haʻikū Stairs and its surrounding environment since 1987. When our maintenance access was terminated and the City threatened to destroy Haʻikū Stairs, FHS reinvigorated our mission to protect them. With the support of the community, we are finding solutions and creating plans that put our neighborhoods and our ʻāina first. Through collaboration with local grassroots stakeholders we will realize a shared vision of stewardship for Haʻikū Valley, focusing on creating and sustaining a thriving valley from mauka to makai.


Is there a chance you can win this fight and reopen the Stairs? 

Yes. Removal of the Haʻikū Stairs is not a simple project. There are many regulatory hurdles and challenges the City and County Government need to surmount to move forward, including, but not limited to:

  • The Haʻikū Stairs are a historic structure, requiring the State Historic Preservation Division to sign off.

  • There are endangered species in the vicinity and federally protected critical habitats, requiring multiple biological surveys, the development of a mitigation plan, and permitting to get both Federal and State approval.

  • There will be impacts on the downstream watershed requiring approvals under the Clean Water Act.

  • The Haʻikū Stairs rest on state conservation land, requiring DLNR approval.


Additionally, before they can seek any of the above permits, a new comprehensive environmental impact assessment is required under both state and federal law. 


We are fighting the City every step of the way and are optimistic about our chances of succeeding in protecting the Stairs.


Do you profit from the Stairs?

Our mission is funded through memberships, donations, and the sale of T-shirts and other merchandise. All proceeds go directly to support the mission. Were the Haʻikū Stairs open under managed access with a fee for climbing, the Friends of Haʻikū Stairs advocate that profits from managed access be allocated to workgroups and community organizations that restore the ʻāina in Haʻikū Valley.


Do the Stairs destroy the surrounding ‘āina? How does your organization plan to care for the land?

The Haʻikū Stairs are anchored to the mountain using 3-foot steel pins at the corner of each module. People climbing the Stairs are able to view multiple endemic and rare species at different altitudes without setting one foot on the ‘āina itself. For decades, Friends of Haʻikū Stairs used the steel structure to protect the surrounding ‘āina by removing nearby invasive species such as clidemia and schefflera in order to allow native species to thrive. We have also conducted multiple botanical surveys using the Stairs and had plans to begin outplanting native species before our maintenance access was abruptly terminated. Our organization includes flora, fauna, and forestry experts who are deeply committed to both preserving the Stairs and also to restoring the lands surrounding the Stairs that were damaged by the US military during installation.


How would you deal with access and security issues (i.e. trespassing)? 

A robust security plan would be essential to the success of reopening Haʻikū Stairs under managed access. Remember that if the City removes the Stairs, people will still trespass to access the mountain; only managed access will reduce trespassing because it gives hikers a legitimate (and safe) way to access the mountain. The current plan of roving security in the valley is a small deterrent; better would be security personally installed at choke points on the Stairs itself, as well as night vision cameras and secure fencing.


There is a community-driven process that would establish safe, environmentally sustainable, and culturally respectful access. A neighborhood board task force is already making strides to address community concerns. The Friends of Haʻikū Stairs have shared detailed managed access plans that build on these community efforts.


What happened with the lawsuit?

Friends of Haʻikū Stairs filed a lawsuit on August 8th, 2023, against the City & County of Honolulu, seeking a court order to halt the planned demolition of the Stairs on environmental grounds (read more about the complaint here). Unfortunately, the Circuit Court ruled against us on December 5th, 2023.


We believe this was a seriously flawed ruling and plan to appeal immediately. The City doesn't have the necessary permits to move forward with removal, and we plan to block their attempts to acquire those as well. We are confident that the City will ultimately be held accountable for its attempt to evade state law. Public opinion polls continue to show that a majority of the public want to save the Stairway to Heaven, not destroy it. While we suffered a setback, we remain undaunted in our mission to safeguard the historic Haʻikū Stairs and to protect the surrounding ʻāina.

What is Kualoa Ranch's connection to the Stairs?

The ruling against our lawsuit was made even more outrageous with the City's last-minute admission at the hearing: there is (and assumedly has been) a plan to transfer the Haʻikū Stairs to Kualoa Ranch to be installed there despite the City repeatedly denying Kualoa Ranch being considered as an alternative solution. Throughout the course of our legal proceedings, the mayor and his office dismissed our concerns and arguments about plans to move the Stairs elsewhere (specifically to Kualoa Ranch), claiming that nothing of the sort was ever said and there were no such plans. However, we have the mayor on video at a town hall meeting on April 13, 2023, where he describes a “plan to work with Kualoa Ranch” to move the Stairs there.

In court filings, City attorneys offered shifting explanations for the Mayor’s remarks. They first claimed the Mayor was referring to a different staircase. Then, they argued he was only speculating about a possible “aspiration.”  Then, they argued that the City’s contract with Nakoa Company, the demolition contractor puts the issue beyond the City’s control. However, the City has failed to disclose the contract or address possible side-deals cut by City leaders. The City insisted, categorically, in a public court filing that the “Stair modules are not being installed at Kualoa Ranch” on September 5. As recently as November 3, the City continued to characterize any suggestions that the Stairs might end up at Kualoa as “absurd.” Finally, on December 5, 2023, the City conceded in court that a Kualoa deal “may” in fact have been agreed on.

The City has structured a deal whereby taxpayers bear all the costs, while Nakoa and Kualoa seem to realize all the upsides. Rather than selling the Stairs, the City proposes to spend more than $4 million of taxpayer money to remove the
Stairs from their current location. However, by its own admission, the City seems to have given Nakoa the right to resell the removed modules. As such, taxpayers wouldn't realize a single cent from the Kualoa giveaway. Kualoa Ranch will gain a priceless public asset delivered up at enormous public expense, and the taxpayers who funded the Stairs’ 1942 construction and who
paid a further $1 million in City-funded repairs to rest
ore the Stairs for public recreational use in 2003 will be left without compensation.

Kualoa Ranch has made no secret of its interest in acquiring the Stairs. It declared its aim “to put them back up on one of its mountains” in 2020 and reaffirmed this interest in December 2023. Nakoa was the sole bidder on the removal contact. Did Kualoa’s commercial interests influence City leaders? For the time being, this question remains unanswered. The City continues to stonewall and deny any involvement in the Kualoa transfer. Indeed, City attorneys filed a legal motion seeking
to prevent the Friends of Haʻikū Stairs (FHS) from even questioning the Mayor and City leaders about Kualoa.

Why is it a bad idea to move the Stairs to Kualoa Ranch?

1. The Stairs modules are contoured to the ridge at Haʻikū. As a result, they won’t fit on Kualoa’s mountain. The lower elevations
there also mean that only part of the Stairs could be used at best. Moving them will thus lead to a mutilated, truncated facsimile of the original.


2. Tourists lured by the “Stairway to Heaven” mystique may not know or care, and Kualoa can safely profit from their ignorance. Yet, moving the Stairs would also detach them from their historic links to Haʻikū Valley. Doing so dishonors the heroic wartime effort the Navy made to build the Stairs there as part of a revolutionary radio transmitter whose unprecedented range provided a crucial edge that helped win the War in the Pacific. The Stairs also played a role in the later-developed Omega Station technology—an equally pathbreaking precursor to GPS. They have since become a beloved fixture of Windward O‘ahu—offering a one-of-a-kind hiking experience encompassing some most stunning scenery on the planet. Removing the Stairs from Haʻikū would erase the myriad memories that generations of island residents have cherished in this place—climbing the Stairs on scouting trips, as ohana outings, after graduating high school, even as a venue to propose marriage. Why should tourists get exclusive enjoyment of something that belongs to all of us?

3. Removal of the Stairs will cost millions. It would wreak untold environmental harm on a federally protected habitat populated by critically endangered species while burdening residents with two years of helicopter overflights. The idea that this whole project might serve to enrich a private company without undergoing any scrutiny or disclosure under Hawaiʻi environmental
law demands question. That the City appears poised to sign away an iconic public treasure in a secret backroom deal makes the Kualoa transfer even more suspect.

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