The steep steps up Koko Crater, a hiking path deteriorating because of erosion and its own popularity, are getting some attention from the City and County of Honolulu in the form of a $1 million budget allotment.

The money approved by Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the City Council last month will be spent primarily on assessment and planning of long-term repairs, according to the budget. At least $100,000 of it will go to immediate fixes and maintenance.

“We’re on the right track to have something that will keep the trail from deteriorating until we can get through this long process,” said Jane Howard, president of Kokonut Koalition, a nonprofit that has been advocating and fundraising for repairs.

Visitors to Koko Crater hike more than 1,000 steps over old tramway tracks that have fallen into disrepair in Hawaii Kai. Courtesy of Jane Howard

A timeline for long-term solutions hasn’t been determined, said Department of Parks and Recreation spokesman Nate Serota.

The trail is made up of more than 1,000 tramway tracks from the 1940s that were used to transport army personnel and supplies up Koko Crater. Over time, they’ve fallen into severe disrepair. While the city owns the surrounding land, it hasn’t maintained or encouraged its use.

Caldwell’s spokesman said in 2014 that people visit the trail “at their own risk.” Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s administration tried and failed to block access to the stairs in 2008, but “keep out” signs were removed amid public opposition.

“They didn’t want to encourage people to go up there because if people get hurt, they’ll sue the city,” said Councilman Tommy Waters, whose district includes Koko Head District Park.

Howard said the current state of the walkway is “terrible.”

“There are a lot of railroad ties that are missing,” she said. “There are big gullies along the tracks from erosion. The high traffic volumes have made the earth loose enough so that when it rains, it washes away.”

Some dedicated hikers have taken matters — and hammers — into their own hands to maintain the trail, which has felt a particular strain in the last fives years due to an “exponential” rise in tourist visits, Howard said.

“There is a lot of handiwork from people who did repairs on their own because they love the place,” she said. “Everyone loves the place. It’s on social media, and any given time you’re up there, you hear languages from all over the world.”  

Waters said he’s been meeting with the parks department and community members to help determine the best way to spend the $1 million. The city must consider that renovating the trail may attract even more visitors who will require additional parking, he said. A makeover of the area could also include bulb-outs for hikers to stop and rest on the side.

“Right now if you want to stop and rest, you have to go in the bushes,” he said. “I want to know what the community wants.”

Howard thinks the stairs should be completely rebuilt so people can continue to enjoy the hike.

“I’d like to see the trail brought back to its original glory,” she said.

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