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Rescues and Environmental Destruction on the Rise as Closure of Ha'ikū Stairs Drive Hikers to...

RESCUES AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION ON THE RISE AS CLOSURE OF HA`IKU STAIRS DRIVE HIKERS TO ALTERNATE TRAILS

Trend Will Continue; City’s Planned Demolition Will Not End Trespassing

 

(HONOLULU, HI – May 10, 2022)   New voices suggest that the City’s plans to demolish the Ha‘ikū Stairs will not end concerns over safety, environmental harms, and trespassing.  Indeed, closure of the Ha‘ikū Stairs has already made two of these problems worse by diverting hikers to more dangerous and environmentally destructive alternative trails. Nor will removal of the Stairs put an end to trespassing. The Friends of Ha‘ikū Stairs (FHS) believes the real answer to these

problems is managed access and are working to advance a community-

driven solution with City input.

 

The City has claimed that removing the Stairs is necessary due to safety and liability concerns, environmental risks, and the need to stop trespassers from disturbing Ha‘ikū valley residents.  However, Rick Barboza, Ha‘ikū Valley landowner, co-owner of the native plant nursery,  Hui Kū Maoli Ola , and co-founder of the aloha ʻāina- based education organization non-profit  Papahana Kuaola, doubts removal will solve the problem.  He has experienced repeated trespassing on his land and does not see it ending without managed access.

 

Barboza states, “From a landholder perspective, we have seen how inaction has led to trespassing.  Even with increased police enforcement, the trespassing has persisted. Tearing down the Stairs is

not going to stop people from coming into the valley.  There will still be trespassing.  There will be people climbing up the ridge with or without the Ha‘ikū Stairs.”

 

Barboza adds that, “Removing the stairs will cause greater safety risks. I have friends who are first responders, I think about them and worry that their lives will be put in jeopardy if they have to deal with the increased safety risks of people climbing the ridge without the Stairs.” Concerns over safety risks are already growing as the Stairs traffic has shifted to the other side of the mountain. Increasing numbers of hikers are reaching the Stairs summit via the Moanalua Middle Ridge trail. 



This Moanalua route is far longer, more difficult, and more dangerous than climbing the Stairs.  Hikers following this route are not always prepared to negotiate its challenges. Lena Haapala, President of the Kokonut Koalition, has witnessed the dangers of the Moanalua trail first-hand, “People are hiking without enough water and in their walking shoes like they're going up Diamond Head. People don't make it. They get lost.  Bad weather can make the trail slippery and turn the stream crossings into raging rapids.  And the steep drop-offs along the ridge are extremely dangerous for inexperienced hikers.”


Distressed hikers on Moanalua are placing a mounting burden on the Honolulu Fire Department (HFD) and costing the taxpayers money. There have been over seven rescues reported from Moanalua in the past year alone. Haapala comments that “people blame the Ha‘ikū Stairs for rescue calls, but most of the rescues now originate on the Moanalua side.” 


According to the Board of Water Supply EIS Ha‘ikū Stairs study, “Over the past 17 years, emergency calls for Ha‘ikū Stairs and the surrounding areas have increased significantly. To obtain the results shown in Table 4-4 (attached), HFD…cross referenced with the area of Ha‘ikū Stairs and the wilderness hiking areas that are connected or close by, including trails in Moanalua Valley. The date show in Table 4-4 is not an exact result for Ha‘ikū Stairs only. It could include people on recreational

hikes in other areas.”


Friends of Ha‘ikū Stairs analysis of media reports of rescued hikers suggests that even this HFD data reported by Civil Beat is overinclusive.  Rescues on the Kaneohe side often involve hikers

bushwhacking at 4:00 a.m. while negotiating unofficial access routes to bypass security and reach the start of the Stairs.  The number of rescues originating from distressed hikers on the Stairs themselves accounts for only a tiny fraction of total rescues. (Statistical analysis of reported rescues available upon request).


Jay Silberman, retired U.S. Coast Guard environmental protection specialist who served as the Coast Guard project manager for the Ha`iku Stairs attributes this disturbing trend in rescues to the diversion of Stairs hikers to far more dangerous alternatives trails. “When the Coast Guard opened the Stairs to the public in the early 1980s until we closed the Omega Station in the late 1990s, there were no deaths, no serious injuries, and no lawsuits. These facts remained consistent across management of the Stairs by the Board of Water Supply and the City and County.” Silberman added, “The Ha‘ikū Stairs’ double handrails and metal treads make them much safer than Hawaii’s notoriously slick and muddy clay trails that hikers are now relying on to reach the Stairs

summit.”

 

Ryan Chang, conservation worker and hiking enthusiast, focuses his concern on the environmental devastation wrought by hikers negotiating the heavily eroded Moanalua access trail.  “With regard to removing or retaining the stairs, I am undecided. But what cannot happen is this continued use of the Moanalua side to access the Stairs. The Moanalua side has seen over use.” Chang added, “The Middle Ridge trail is literally a mud pit with chasms of mud; in short the ridge is falling apart, and it is very sad to see. The loss of 'āina is heartbreaking.  This is all at the expense of people wanting to see the Stairs and the summit.”

 

Rick Barboza adds, “Moanalua is an example where the erosion caused by increased foot traffic has increased exponentially in recent years. You can compare this to when the Stairs provided a metal

platform to walk on, and the harm from erosion was minimal.  The only damage caused was when hikers climbed off the Stairs and walked along the edges to allow others to pass. Managed access would control this harm and would be preferable to the current unmanaged situation.”

 

Friends of Ha‘ikū Stairs (FHS) urge the City Council to pause their planned demolition funding.  A community-driven plan for managed access can address all of the issues with the Stairs without the

enormous costs and risks that demolition would bring.  Managed access would not only preserve an iconic Windward landmark, it would be better for the environment and better from a safety and liability standpoint.



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