Uphill Battle

MidWeek’s intrepid reporter climbs the ‘stairs’ of Koko Crater to see firsthand why the community is fighting to keep it open

Sarah Pacheco
Friday - November 21, 2008
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Roger Breton (aka Man Friday) makes the climb for a second time

The two Hawaii Kai mountains of Koko Head and Koko Crater are renowned in both the tourist and local communities for being places of leisure. While Koko Head may be slightly more crowded because of the popular attraction Hanauma Bay, Koko Crater has long been a point of interest.

During World War II, a set of railroad tracks were constructed up the side of the mountain, taking soldiers to bunkers placed along the summit. Many possibilities were considered for the track’s post-war existence. In 1968, E.K. Fernandez proposed building a gondola ride along the same route. Thirty years later, voices thought a prison might be more suitable atop the 1,208-foot peak. City Councilman Rod Tam suggested the controversial landfill scheme in 2004, while Alt-E Ventures’ Steve Klein more recently proposed building a zip-line.

The plans that got hundreds of hikers really riled, though, came this past February, when city officials abruptly closed the Koko Crater Trail.

“There were neighborhood rallies, and all the people who climbed it were protesting,” says Sharon Serene, owner of advertising firm Sharon Serene Creativity and a regular on the trail. “(The city) took the signs down later that day because there was such a protest.”

The writer works her way up

On Feb. 26, the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board meeting was filled with those same hikers to show their support for the stairs. Board chairman Greg Knudsen said the meeting was held to reach a compromise to accommodate both sides of the issue.

Following the unanimous vote by the board to keep the trail open for public use, Serene says an official decision from the city was to have been made in September. So far, she’s heard nothing.

“The City and County wanted to close the trail because they claimed it was unsafe,” she says. “They were claiming that it was dangerous because of the firing range (located a quarter-mile away). Then they were claiming that it was dangerous and they didn’t have the money to keep it up to keep it safe. So the people who climb it were willing to band together and volunteer to do that on their own so people could keep going up and down.”

Trekking up the crater is rewarded with breathtaking views

Lester Chang, director of the city Parks and Recreation Department, which is in charge of Koko Head Shooting Complex and the trail’s future, could not be reached for comment.

To gain insight into why this trail is worth keeping open, this MidWeek reporter decided to take a hike - literally.

Born and raised a Hawaii Kai girl, I’ve seen the little dots of people scurrying up the side of the mountain - like ants up a hill - my whole life. The simple reason I’ve never become an ant myself: acrophobia (read: fear of heights).

So it is with a weak heart and even weaker knees that I meet our photographer, Nathalie Walker, and Serene at the upper parking lot of Koko Head District Park at 7 a.m. (Serene explains that the early mornings or afternoons

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