Supporters of 'Stairway to Heaven' speak out as deadline looms

KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Haiku Stairs draws hundreds of hikers every month, even though they risk a trespassing citation to do it. But the clock is ticking on whether the stairs will stay or go for good.

A meeting of the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board drew supporters and opponents Thursday night.

The board has discussed the popular but illegal hike for the past several years. Supporters were more urgent this time around as the Board of Water Supply prepares to open the Environmental Impact Statement process that could keep the stairs closed -- or even have them dismantled.

The Haiku Stairs, also known as "Stairway to Heaven," has been closed in 1987 for safety reasons.

The stairs were renovated by the city in 2005, but remain off-limits to the public. The Board, which owns the land beneath and around the stairs, wants it closed permanently. But the Friends of Haiku Stairs told the neighborhood board that it wants to have managed access to the stairway.

"The Stairway to Heaven is by far the most safe way to reach the top of the mountain, and it is actually a resource for us to mitigate our liability as taxpayers," Matt Kievlan of Friends of Haiku Stairs told the neighborhood board.

The group is looking at several proposals, including charging people for guided hikes to the top of the 3,922 stairs.

"If we can charge for Diamond Head, and people pay -- and to be honest, a much crappier hike than Haiku Stairs, the economics can play out to protect the stairs, make it reasonably safe," said hiker Scott Lau of Kaimuki.

It currently costs the Board of Water Supply about $170,000 a year to hire a security guard to try to keep hikers out. And many neighbors have complained about hikes trespassing through their property. They would be glad to see the stairs gone.

"If 300 people a month will risk a trespassing charge and a thousand-dollar fine, which the Kaneohe courts give out like Halloween candy, how many people would pay 25 dollars for a wristband that would allow them to climb the stairs legally?" asked area resident Fred Collins.

But the Board is expected to begin the EIS process on April 23. People would have 30 days to comment. And the stairway's fate could be decided very soon.

"I would imagine that if the EIS favors removing the stairs -- and that was the proposed action -- and that got through the draft and the final process -- I imagine it would happen fast," said Kaneohe Neighborhood Board Chairman Mo Radke.

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