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Oahu’s “Stairway to Heaven,” one of Hawaii’s most talked-about tourist attractions, is closed to the public and scheduled to be removed, but some island visitors continue to climb the 3,922 steps to the ridgeline of the Koolau Mountains the risk of $1,000 fines.

The City of Honolulu announced on April 10 that the process of removing the steep and narrow stairway—built by the U.S. military during World War II to access a Navy communications facility—would begin this month.

Officials Cite Gradual Removal of Hawaii’s Attraction

The plan calls for the gradual removal of the 600 stair modules that comprise the structure, also known as the Haiku Stairs. The project will cost the city an estimated $2.9 million and take at least six months to complete.

“I can promise you that this was not a capricious decision,” said Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi. “This decision that was made was predicated upon our respect for the people who live in and around the entrance to the stairs, our respect for our aina, and our respect for both the future and the past history of the culture of the Haiku community.”

The stairway has been officially closed to the public since 1987; the city made repairs to the structure in recent years, but it never reopened.

Nonetheless, tourists have continued to cross private property, ignore “No Trespassing” signs, and risk fines and arrests in order to make the difficult and dangerous climb.

City officials noted that the site is even more hazardous now that it is an active work zone, but hundreds of people have reportedly climbed Hawaii’s Haiku Stairs this month alone. Some climbers are now being arrested for trespassing in addition to receiving summonses.

The Honolulu Fire Department reported in 2021 that more than 118 people have required rescue from the stairs since 2010. In September 2023, a dog accompanying a woman on an illegal climb fell 50 feet from the stairway and had to be rescued.

An advocacy group called Friends of Haiku Stairs opposes the closure, citing a call for public comment and polls that the group said overwhelmingly favored preserving the stairway.

On April 19, the Friends of Haiku Stairs filed a lawsuit seeking to block the demolition of the structure.

The group cites the cost of demolition, the fact that there has never been a death or serious injury among stair-climbers, and the fact that trespassing was not an issue until the stairway was closed. It has called for a managed access program for the Stairway to Heaven.

According to the group’s website, “The Stairs are a historic World War II monument eligible for the National Historic Register. “They offer a unique, world-class hiking experience, treasured for generations. It would be tragic to lose them.”