Hawaii forced to remove historic attraction due to influencers

Hawaii forced to remove historic attraction due to influencers

Honolulu authorities have announced that they will finally start a $2.5m project to remove the historic Haiku Stairs, saying the misbehaviour of hikers and influencers has forced them to strip them off the mountainside.

The Haiku Stairs in Hawaii, often called the ‘Stairway to Heaven’, are made up of 3,922 steps across the ridgeline of the Koolau Mountains and have been an iconic, picturesque part of O’ahu’s heritage.

However, years of disturbance and disruption from trespassers – many are hikers who see the closed site as a tourist destination and have turned it into a social media photo hotspot – have led to the stairs’ removal from the mountain, in what was not at all a “capricious decision” by the council, Honolulu mayor Rick Blangiardi said.

The City and County of Honolulu announced that preparatory work has officially begun ahead of the removal of 600 stair modules on the Haiku Stairs later this month, the city said in a statement on 10 April.

Built by the US military during the Second World War for access to their communications facilities, the stairs have been closed to the public for almost 40 years.

But this has not stopped illegal trespassers from finding their way onto the stairs, and disturbing residents who live in the area, ever since the attraction was shut down in 1987 for liability and vandalism reasons.

On the morning that work began, the project workers attended a ho‘omaikai‘i (blessing) ceremony to bless the workers undertaking “this important project,” the city wrote.

The stairs, starting at 400 feet in Haiku Valley and reaching its highest elevation of 2,820 feet in the Koolau Mountains, are being removed as a matter of public safety, city officials said, seeking to stop regular trespassers from traversing the site.

The stairs nicknamed ‘Stairway to Heaven’ have become an unofficial tourist attraction (Getty)
The stairs nicknamed ‘Stairway to Heaven’ have become an unofficial tourist attraction (Getty)

The authorities warned that anyone who ignores the ‘No Trespassing’ signs now that the removal work has started, should know that the site is considered extremely dangerous, and anyone who does decide to wander on the trail will put their safety immediately at threat.

The removal of the stairs has been a long and continuous debate between officials and residents for years, with the decision finally put in place after much deliberation and discussion with the community and the Honolulu City Council.

It has been over two years since the council voted unanimously to strip the stairs from the mountainside in the hopes that while it preserves public safety and the peace of neighbouring people, it will also help the natural beauty and condition of the area.

“This was a decision, when we came into office, that was long overdue. Over the course of many months, in meeting with the people involved and the discovery that we put into it, I can promise you that this was not a capricious decision,” Mayor Blangiardi said during Wednesday’s announcement, the city’s statement said.

Mr Blangiardi added that the decision also to affirm their respect “for the people who live in and around the entrance to the stairs, our respect for our ʻāina [land and sea], and our respect for both the future and the past history of the culture of the Haʻikū community.”

The Haiku Stairs will take at least six months to dismantle (Getty)
The Haiku Stairs will take at least six months to dismantle (Getty)

City officials said the project will be undertaken by The Nakoa Comapines Inc, which will start by removing the ageing, narrow metal stair structure.

The workers will collaborate with a biologist, who will evaluate each section of the stairs before and after removal to make sure native species are protected and to prevent any erosion.

After removal, the company will also re-vegetate the impacted areas with native plants, thus “honouring the historical significance of the site”.

The project is predicted to take at least six months to complete, using over $2.5m in funds.

Not everyone is on board with the project. Friends of Haiku Stairs, a community organisation fighting to preserve the site, filed a complaint last year against the dismantling of the stairs, according to Hawaii News Now.

In a statement to the outlet, the organisation said demolishing the stairs is “a senseless waste of taxpayer money and an act of vandalism”.

“The city should heed the majority of Oahu residents, and Haiku Valley residents, who want to save the stairs, not destroy them,” they added.

Honolulu City Council Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina has acknowledged that there will be many people who feel “we are taking away something from them”.

“This is a man-made contraption on a natural valley. And as far as I’m concerned, ensuring that there is no further liability on behalf of the city, providing for public safety, restoring the valley and, providing... a natural setting so that people could remember what Haiku Valley was,” Ms Kiaana said at a conference after the announcement.