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[Star Advertiser] Column: Haiku Stairs worth saving, plan options do exist

Over the years, when a public attraction has resulted in trespassing or other problems as a means of entrance, we have not solved the problem by simply destroying the attraction. Instead, we have worked out a suitable access. We see this in our rights of way to get to beaches, suitable routes to trailheads, even planned rerouting of a North Shore highway in order to view turtles. But for the Haiku Stairs, we spend a million to destroy it?

I happen to be a resident of the neighborhood adjacent to the Stairs. We are not all opposed to the Stairs, as the media might lead one to think. Indeed, it is a very limited number of residents who have had their properties trespassed upon by hikers. Nevertheless, no one at all should have to endure trespassing, and for that reason, none of us who want to save the Stairs envisions a hiking route through a residential neighborhood. This is not even an issue.

Years ago, a task force of the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board worked out an access to the Stairs that did not pass through any residential area. Starting with parking in Kaneohe’s District Park, it proceeded through state-owned and unused wooded areas to the H-3 Freeway service road and then to the Stairs.

In the meantime, however, the terms of both our mayor and our City Council member, both of whom had solidly supported the Stairs, expired — and their successors were less interested. Other routes have been suggested as well. Currently the Friends of Haiku Stairs has proposed a route that would also include managed access. This, too, has been ignored.

Other objections to the Stairs are very questionable. First of all, the Stairs are not unsafe for the public; to the contrary, they have the best safety record among our island trails. (Contrast this to the frequent fatalities at our beaches.)

Secondly, if invasive species are a problem, as the mayor cited, then we’d need to close every trail on the island as well. Also, it was mentioned that the primary landowner at the Stair’s base is not interested in providing access — however, it is only state government agencies that sit on land in the valley, not private entities.

Finally, it is not just a matter of tourists being attracted to the Stairs; a great many of our local people have climbed the Stairs or hope to do so. From the summit, there is a new appreciation of the sheer glory and beauty of this island upon which we live. For those who have made the climb, there are almost none who would have it destroyed for others. And those who would destroy the Stairs, for the most part, have never climbed them.

It was under federal administration that many of us got to legally climb the Stairs. Ironically, once the property passed to local control, the entrance gate to the valley was locked, high fences built, guards hired and police utilized — and locals kept out.

Every day from my home I can see the Stairs, and long for the day when I and my children can legally climb them again. In the past, local government, to its credit, has devised suitable access to popular attractions. But this time, the choice is destruction? Sad. Costly. And unnecessary.

Bill Cunningham is retired as a teacher in public secondary schools here, and has served as a member and vice chairman of the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board.

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