A relatively unknown tourist attraction in Hawaii – closed to the public for the last 34 years but still drawing thousands of outdoor enthusiasts every year – is facing a shutdown by next year.
The 'Stairway to Heaven,' also known as 'The Haiku Stairs,' is a spectacular staircase that starts in Hawaii's Haiku Valley on the island of Oahu and climbs 3,922 steps along the ridge of the Koolau Mountain Range. It was built by the US Navy in 1942, just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, to create a radio tower at the top to transmit messages to US ships and submarines.
It was later abandoned and closed to the public in 1987, although the staircase – repaired and renovated in 2003 – remains fully intact.
The stairs were relatively unknown and untouched after being abandoned in the 1950s, but then came the power of the media, both traditional and social.
In the 1980s, Stairway to Heaven was featured in an episode of the original 'Magnum, P.I.' television series, sparking interest in the structure. Now, tourists who are technically trespassing have posted pictures and directions on how to get to the staircase on Twitter and Instagram – resulting in about 4,000 visitors a year who hike the trail.
But concern over security costs and liability if someone gets hurt has led the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which owns the picturesque stairs and surrounding land, to consider considering removing the staircase.
"If a solution for keeping Haiku Stairs cannot be achieved, then BWS will have no choice but to remove Haiku Stairs," according to an environmental report printed by the Honolulu Civil Beat.
"With the advent of social media, instructions to illegally access Haiku Stairs are readily available, and prolific sharing of panoramic snapshots encourages people around the world to risk the climb," the report states.
Residents who live near the base of the staircase are also complaining about the tourists who park in their neighbourhood and make noise early in the morning. Worse, some of them are also walking through their private property, using their hoses to rinse off, leaving trash behind, relieving themselves in the street and otherwise disrespecting their neighbourhood.
"There is an ongoing need to stop trespassing and reduce disruptions in the adjacent residential neighbourhoods," the report said.
The Board of Water Supply said it is open to other solutions that would save the Stairway to Heaven.