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[Star-Advertiser] Column: Managed Access for Haiku Stairs is the Best Way Forward

Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser Editorial: Island Voices. By Sean Pager, Holly Sevier and Lena Haapala. June 27, 2023.

Oahu voters face a choice regarding Hawaii’s “Stairway to Heaven,” as the Star-Advertiser editorial board recognized (“Haiku Stairs in Crosshairs,” Our View, June 17). The city could proceed with a $2.26 million bid to demolish the stairs (with costs almost certain to grow and lawsuits pending). Or it could allow a private entity to restore and reopen the stairs under managed access.

We applaud the Star Advertiser for recognizing the stairs’ value in offering “access to … spectacular views and a valuable cultural and environmental experience.” The stairs also have incredible historical value: part of a Navy radio station whose technology helped win World War II in the Pacific. Kamaaina have long cherished this iconic Windward landmark, and the

Historic Hawaii Foundation, National Geographic, Sierra Club and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have all affirmed the stairs’ world-class value.

Where we quibble with the Star-Advertiser is its assertion that “reopening Haiku Stairs requires a level of commitment no one seems willing to make.” When the Caldwell administration put out a request for interest in 2020, 14 different private vendors, from commercial operators to local nonprofits, responded.

The same administration negotiated draft agreements with landowners to provide access that bypasses residential neighborhoods and avoids disturbing residents. It even transferred the stairs to the city parks department as a prelude to reopening them. The Blangiardi administration chose not to pursue this promising initiative and instead targeted the stairs for demolition.

The Star-Advertiser said that managed access “requires a fully vetted, sustainable business plan.” Such a plan exists and was provided to Blangiardi months ago. The Friends of Haiku Stairs plan (available at builds on past community and government efforts. It addresses all the nuts-and-bolts issues: safety, security, liability, access, parking, maintenance. It also specifies safeguards to protect the environment and respect native Hawaiian protocols.

The Friends’ plan shows how to pay for all of this. Charging visitor fees ranging from $75-$100 (with kamaaina/military paying$10-$20) easily generates sufficient revenue to fund the entire operation and would provide paid employment for guides and24/7 security. Surplus funds would be reinvested in the community.

The Friends maintained the stairs for almost 30 years free of charge, tightening bolts, hauling trash, removing invasive species.It stands ready to resume this work immediately and has trained engineers and former government officials on its board with decades of expertise. We take inspiration from the Kokonut Koalition, which repaired and maintains the Koko Crater Stairs through donated labor and materials. Our managed access proposal would cost the city nothing and protect taxpayers from all liability.

It’s worth noting that concerns over safety and liability are unsubstantiated. In 80 years, there has never been an accidental death or serious injury on the stairs, and no lawsuits either.

Moreover, rescue calls nowadays overwhelmingly come from hikers accessing the stairs summit from the Moanalua side.Reopening the stairs under a managed access would provide a much safer alternative.

Managed access is working successfully elsewhere in the islands: Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, Haena — there are no shortage of examples to follow. A reopened Haiku Stairs would build on these examples and emulate best practices.

Detailed plans exist to manage the stairs safely and responsibly, willing operators are ready to step forward, and landowners willing to provide access. All that is missing is political will. The mayor tells us “the plans won’t work,” but has yet to explain his reasoning or provide ideas for improvement. It’s time for the city to abandon its misguided removal efforts and give managed access a chance.


Also signing on to this commentary are Randy Ching, a longtime hiking advocate, and Canaan Shon, president of Engineers and Architects of Hawaii.

Sean Pager is the president of Friends of Haiku Stairs (FHS); Holly Sevier is the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board representative for Haiku Valley and an FHS board member (her views expressed here are in a personal capacity); and Lena Haapala is president of the Kokonut Koalition.

Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser 3/3

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