Hiking through our half-century history at Wiliwilinui Ridge

One way that the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i is commemorating our 50th Anniversary is by hosting a series of “victory hikes” throughout the state, at least one per quarter by each group. This second quarter, the O‘ahu Group held its victory hike to Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail. The hike was led by Jean Fujikawa, an Outings leader of ten years who also works for the O‘ahu Invasive Species Committee, and guest speaker Reese Liggett, a former Outings Committee Chair and hike leader.

During our hike, Reese revealed how in 1995-1998 the Sierra Club championed efforts at the ‘Āina Haina Neighborhood Board, State Board of Land and Natural Resources, and Honolulu City Council to establish public access rules for the Wiliwilinui Ridge trail. Reese was the Outings Chair who helped coordinate this three-year effort, which resulted in the March 4,1998 Bureau of Conveyances Document No. 98-028929 issued by the City and signed by Mayor Jeremy Harris. This document prohibits the Waialae Iki V Community Association from requesting identification of hikers who want to enter the gated community to access Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail in the State’s Conservation District. Hikers driving through the security gate can now mention the state’s public access easement for the Ridge Trail and will be allowed to drive to the trailhead without having their ID’s scanned into the Waialae Iki V system.

Since 1998, O‘ahu Group Outings continues to lead hikes and service projects that improve the safety and accessibility of this trail. Outings leader Randy Ching pointed out the sections of trail that he and Ed Mersino maintained by installing new steps and water diversions. Some of the older steps were still painted with the “Sierra Club Hawai‘i Chapter” name, demonstrating how our work has stood the testament of time and thousands of hikers on this popular East O‘ahu trail.

Also joining the hike were members of the O‘ahu Group’s Executive Committee and several participants who were joining the Sierra Club for their very first hike. Our group of ten enjoyed a sunny day learning about this victory hike, discovering native and edible plants, and hiking into the clouds at the top of the ridge.

We encourage you to attend one or more of our victory hikes to join in our 50th anniversary celebration and learn about the club’s efforts and successes in building, protecting, preserving and improving special areas throughout the State. Our 3rd quarter victory hikes are published in our Mālama Newsletters and the online calendar – we hope to see you on the trails!

Steps installed by the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter
Group shot on the way up. Mahalo Jean and Reese for leading this victory hike!

 

Some of the steps that Randy and Ed installed to make the steep slope of the trail more manageable.

 

Beautiful views overlooking East O‘ahu as we transcended into the clouds.

Support Trail Funding SB 2331 SD1

Like to Hike? Support SB 2331 SD1, a bill that would fund the Department of Land and Natural Resources “Na Ala Hele” Program. Na Ala Hele is the State of Hawai‘i Trail and Access Program- managing over 128 trail and road features that span 855 miles throughout the state!

How you can help:

SB 2331 SD1 Relating to Trails has a hearing next week! Please submit written testimony in SUPPORT for this bill by Tuesday, February 27, at 11am. You can submit your support via email to wamtestimony@capitol.hawaii.gov

You can use the following testimony as a guide:

“Aloha Chair Dela Cruz, Vice Chair Keith-Agaran, and members of the Ways and Means Committee. My name is ________ and I live in __________. I’m writing in strong support for SB 2331 SD 1, which appropriates funding for “Na Ala Hele”, the State’s Trail and Access Program. Keeping up with the increasing impacts on our beloved hiking trails is a constant challenge for the State. This bill would provide critical funds for improving access to and maintaining state controlled recreational trails statewide and promoting hiker safety and hiker etiquette education and outreach. I love to hike because ______________ and believe funding our trails is so important because ______________. Please support SB 2331 SD1 and pass this bill.”

Thank you for your support in protecting our trails and promoting hiker education and safety!

 

 

 

 

Loud Hiker Blues

Written by Colleen Soares, O‘ahu Group Outings Committee Chair

 

You wake up early, excited and looking forward to the day. You eat and dress quickly, grab your water and pack, and head for the hills. You’re going hiking, to the top of the Pali! And you’re pumped! You park in a residential area, houses all around. You see a friend, climb out, slam the door, and holler good morning. You’re excited and talking loudly as you walk two blocks to the trailhead, past other houses. It is Saturday, 8 am.

Meanwhile…on the other side of the door… You are deeply asleep when you are awakened sharply by loud music and car doors slamming outside your bedroom window. The clock says 8 am. You are exhausted, and all week, you’ve been looking forward to the one morning you can sleep in. But the music and loud talk and slamming continues. Now, you are fully awake. And angry! You look outside and shake your head. It’s those damn hikers again!

There has been much discussion and complaint about these problems. We are talking about common sense and courtesy from trail users. But we’re human, and we forget, especially in the exuberance of an early morning excursion with friends. Trail users want access to trails, safety and parking. We need parking areas at Kuliouou, and at Maunawili, Manana and other state Na Ala Hele trails that don’t have anything but street parking. More and more people are taking to the trails, and parking has become the major problem. Additionally, busloads of tourists are ferried to trailheads, and we hope they are reminded often that people live nearby.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources receives the brunt of complaints. Hikers talk loudly, slam car doors, obstruct driveways, use water hoses in residents’ yards, and track mud across lawns and cement. DLNR will soon install a few signs to remind us to be more considerate, but they will be at the trailhead, after the noise damage is done. DLNR cannot do the whole job. They have mountains of work to do to keep our parks and trails safe.

DLNR has huge responsibilities and needs a bigger share of state funds in order to protect and conserve our natural resources. “DLNR is responsible for 1.3 million acres of state land, 3 million acres of state ocean waters, 2 million acres of conservation district lands, our drinking water supply, our fisheries, coral reefs, indigenous and endangered flora and fauna, and all of Hawaii‟s historic and cultural sites. And yet, the total operating DLNR budget adds up to less than 1% of the entire state operating budget and 1.6% of permanent civil service workforce.” Auwe!

Haiku Stairs Comments

Aloha, below are the public comments the O‘ahu Group submitted in response to the Environmental Impact Statement Prep Notice (EISPN) in regards to the future of Haiku Stairs, or the “Stairway to Heaven”:

To: OEQC and G70

The Sierra Club O‘ahu Group is concerned about the Haiku Stairs being torn down. Here are our comments and questions.

COMMENTS

1) The Haiku Stairs should be preserved. It is well-known and attracts both locals and visitors. It is unique — no other hiking trail on Oahu is remotely similar. There are fantastic views all along the way and the stairs have a long history. To quote a recent editorial by Vernon Ansdell and Jay Silberman, the stairs “have been determined to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, because of their integral role in the defense of the Pacific during WWII. Experts in botany and natural history have described the Stairs hike as unique in the Hawaiian islands, for several reasons. It would be an incalculable loss of an irreplaceable recreational, educational, historic and cultural resource.”

2) Managing the stairs has been done before with little or no difficulty. Again quoting Silberman — “Think about what was involved when the U.S. Coast Guard Omega Station did it in the 1980s: hikers parked in the parking lot next to the main building, filled out a sign-in sheet, and walked over to the Stairs. That’s it. The station and parking lot were open during the day, so no one had a reason to park on neighbors’ lawns and sneak up at night. During the six years that the Stairs were open, an estimated 20,000 people a year climbed it, with no supervision, and no impact on the neighbors.”

3) No one has been killed or seriously injured while hiking the stairs. This is an amazing record for a trail that has been drawing hikers for over three decades. People have been very careful because of the obvious danger if they fell off the stairs.

4) The City spent almost $800,000 fixing the stairs (and replacing the railings) over a decade ago. It has spent about $170,000 a year for the past several years to post guards at the gate near the end of Haiku Road. All of this money should go to making the stairs available to the public! And if the stairs are torn down, it will cost the city almost 3 million dollars. This money could be used to create a hiking trail that would draw tens of thousands of people a year without annoying the residents who live near the trailhead.

5) If the City won’t maintain the stairs, perhaps another government agency will. DLNR comes to mind. They have a lot of experience in managing trails (think Na Ala Hele). The stairs lead up to the Koolau Summit Trail (KST) and could be part of an all-day hiking experience unlike any other in the state. Up the stairs, along the KST, down Middle Ridge and out along the Kamananui Valley road would be an unparalleled recreational experience.

Another possibility: again quoting Ansdell and Silberman, “If BWS can’t be troubled to manage the Stairs, hire a contractor to do it, and collect entrance fees to cover all operating, maintenance, security and management costs, as well as all potential liability. The state collects hundreds of thousands of dollars per year from entrance fees to Diamond Head State Monument.”

6) The concerns the City has expressed about liability are overblown (again, no deaths or serious injuries in over 3 decades of hiking by everyone from first time hikers to experienced mountaineers). Liability should not be the primary consideration in deciding whether to preserve the stairs or not. The State’s experience with Diamond Head State Park and Manoa Falls Trail (the two most hiked trails on Oahu) should put to rest any concerns that the City has.

7) Oahu’s trails are being inundated by an unprecedented number of hikers. We had almost 9,000,000 visitors to the state in 2016. The situations at Maunawili Falls Trail and Kuliouou Ridge Trail and Mariner’s Ridge indicate that we need more, not fewer, popular trails. Haiku Stairs could be an attraction that helps alleviate the foot traffic on our most popular trails, thus taking some of the pressure off a resource that was not made to handle so many people.

QUESTIONS

1) Have other governmental agencies (besides the Board of Water Supply) been asked about their interest in “taking over” the stairs?

2) Have non-profits been asked about their interest in managing the stairs (for example, the Friends of Haiku Stairs)?

3) Has anyone from the City hiked similar trails in other states or foreign countries? Have they seen how those states and countries managed that recreational resource?

4) Has the City made an offer to Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to swap land that can be used for housing for the land that DHHL owns in Haiku Valley (courtesy of the US government when Coast Guard Omega Station closed down) and which is unsuitable for housing?

5) Has the City considered selling the stairs to a third party (such as Trust for Public Land) which would transfer the stairs to another government entity or non-profit or public-private partnership (PPP)?

6) Has the City considered reviving the Coast Guard method from the 80’s — i.e. renovating the parking lot and main building of the former Coast Guard facility to allow hikers to park there so that neighbors would not be inconvenienced?

7) Has the City considered using the Diamond Head State Park model — charging for parking ($5 per vehicle) or walking in ($1)? These monies could be used exclusively to maintain the stairs and provide a great visitor experience.

8) There is a serious shortage of funding to protect and maintain our natural resources. With almost 9,000,000 visitors last year, DLNR needs more resources just to maintain, much less improve, the visitor experience. This doesn’t even count the number of locals who also use the resource base. Has the City considered turning the stairs over to the State to use as a revenue source (similar to Diamond Head)?

9) Has the City considered convening a meeting of interested parties in resolving this situation? Representatives from the Board of Water Supply, DHHL, DLNR, the Friends of Haiku Stairs, Sierra Club, Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club, Trust for Public Land, City attorneys, State attorneys should sit down and talk to each other about possible solutions. This would cost very little and some innovative ideas might come out of this get-together. It is worth a try. The Haiku Stairs is a unique resource and definitely worth saving.
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The Sierra Club looks forward to your response. And mahalo for this opportunity to share our mana’o with you.

Randy Ching
Sierra Club O‘ahu Group