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Tourists continue to visit Hawaii’s Haiku Stairs even as it gets removed for overtourism

By Lilit Marcus, CNN

(CNN) — The soap opera surrounding the Haiku Stairs, a disused staircase in a remote part of eastern Oahu that has become popular on social media, continues even as the local government has begun removing the famed landmark.

The staircase, which was built during World War II by the US Navy, has remained a tourist site despite being officially closed to visitors since 1987.

On April 23, five people were arrested and charged with first-degree trespassing, according to CNN affiliate Hawaii News Now.

In addition, police say that they gave out 60 warnings to hikers, eight citations for second-degree trespass and 25 parking enforcement actions over the weekend of April 20 and 21. Second-degree trespassing is a misdemeanor.

Travelers who can make it to the site, nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven for the way the stairs sometimes seem to disappear into the fog atop a 2,800-foot mountain, are rewarded with incredible views of the island.

However, as there are no official trails, many thrill-seekers have had to cut through private property to get there. Some posted guides on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, leading even more visitors there.

This increase in tourism – and the bad behavior that came with it – was among the reasons cited when Honolulu’s city council voted to remove the stairs in 2021.

Earlier this month, local authorities announced that demolition would begin on April 22, leading to the flood of hikers taking “one last chance” to visit the site in recent days.

“On top of (access) being illegal, it’s an active worksite,” Honolulu PD District Maj. Randall Platt told Hawaii News Now. “There’s heavy machinery. The helicopter is working back and forth so it’s dangerous for people to be up there in the first place. It’s a closed site. It’s a work environment.”

“The city was disappointed and dismayed to learn that so many individuals appear to have recklessly disregarded clear warnings that the project to dismantle the Haiku Stairs has begun, putting themselves – and, potentially, first responders – in harm’s way,” a Honolulu city government spokeswoman said in a statement.

The removal will require one 700-foot section at a time being taken away by helicopter, a process that will cost the city $2.5 million.

It has not yet been decided where the stairs will go after being removed. One local tourist attraction, Kualoa Ranch, has expressed interest in buying and housing them.

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