Photography: Courtesy of Friends of Ha’iku Stairs
Article Written By: Katrina Valcourt, HONOLULU Magazine
What is it?
The controversial Stairway to Heaven in Ha‘ikū Valley, consisting of approximately 3,922 steps, was built as a means to reach antennae and transmission facilities on the mountain ridges, used to broadcast signals from the top-secret Ha‘ikū Radio Station commissioned during World War II. What started as a relay station to communicate with naval ships became an Omega navigation station in the 1960s, one of eight stations worldwide. Despite having the most advanced and complex antenna system of its time, the station was decommissioned in 1997 when GPS took over.
What threatens it?
The station sits in disrepair and has been heavily vandalized over the years. On the mauka side of the H-3, the stairs, which have been officially off limits for decades, suffer from wear-and-tear caused by hikers and were damaged by a storm in mid-February. The Board of Water Supply owns the stairs but does not want to manage them, and plans to tear them down, for safety reasons as well as to save money on security and prevent hikers from trespassing through the neighborhood. Mahealani Cypher of the Ko‘olau Foundation says the area could be used for cultural and educational purposes, and tearing down the stairs would cause damage to the native ecosystem.
What can be done?
Though BWS is looking into what it would cost to remove the stairs, it would prefer to have another agency take control of them. “We’ve approached a number of government agencies and, so far, everyone’s turned us down,” says Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer at BWS, which remains open to discussions. Cypher says the Ko‘olau Foundation, along with others, including the Friends of Ha‘ikū Stairs, wants to transform the Omega station into a cultural museum. The landowner, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, has had some preliminary discussions about giving the land to another agency, but nothing has been decided.