After the Koko Crater tramway, built in 1942, and the military radar station at the Koko Crater Summit it served, were deactivated and turned over to the City and County of Honolulu in 1966, the empty track and trestles were embraced by the public as an improvised hiking trail, nicknamed the “Stairmaster from hell.”
Since then the trail and tracks have suffered significant erosion and degradation due to weathering and heavy use by sightseers and exercise buffs. In 2019 alone, the nonprofit Kokonut Koalition estimates, nearly 300,000 people climbed the trail, using the ties as steps.
“There are fewer than 800 wooden tramway ties left of the original 1,048, and the tramway is losing about one tie a week,” said David Nixon, president of the coalition, which was founded in 2019 by regular tramway hikers who proposed to the city that they join in “a public-private partnership to conduct emergency repairs. We would be the muscle, and the city would help fund it.”
On Monday morning the city and the community group announced an agreement had been signed, proof of which was visible in the approximately 70 new steps that had been placed to fill gaps in the stairway since the all-volunteer coalition began work Dec. 9.
The Honolulu City Council and Mayor Kirk Caldwell allocated $1 million toward immediate and long-term tramway repairs in 2019, nearly $74,000 of which was used by the city to procure supplies for immediate repairs and improvements to be performed by Kokonut Koalition.
“One of the downsides to having such amazing natural beauty and gorgeous weather year-round is that our public facilities tend to get loved to death,” Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Michele Nekota said in a statement. “While the tramway was not intended to be a public recreational hike, the community has made it clear that this summit access is a resource they want to maintain.”
Nixon said that after the coalition put together a plan with the help of an engineering firm, acquired materials and trained volunteers, the work had been going more rapidly than anticipated.
“I thought it would take one to 1-1/2 years, but we’re going much more quickly than that,” the Kalama Valley resident said.
The original wooden railroad ties are being replaced with ties made of outdoor timber measuring about 4 by 8 feet, and gravel and concrete are being laid to fill in the pukas between the tramway and the eroded ground beneath it, as well as the erosion at the sides of the trail, which varies from 10 to 12 feet in width, Nixon added.
As coalition members work on the tramway, they are also getting volunteer help from hikers passing by.
“People just kind of spontaneously ask us every day, ‘Can I help?’ We say, ‘Yeah, grab that bucket, fill it with gravel and carry it up,” Nixon said.
He estimated the emergency repairs would last three to five years, “which is great to buy us time to slow down the erosion until a longer-term solution can be implemented so it’ll be here 30 years from now.”
People also can help by donating money at kokonutkoalition.org, he said, as they were running out of supplies.
DPR spokesman Nathan Serota said the trail was being kept open during the repair work, but asked the public to be considerate and safe.
“We want people to please be cognizant of volunteers, try to give them as much space as possible,” he said, adding that the city also asked hikers to wear masks when passing others.
Serota encouraged volunteering. “I carried up a couple of buckets this morning, and my arms are a little sore but it’s a satisfying feeling.”
Nixon said coalition members generally work on the trail from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily. Follow the Kokonut Koalition on Facebook or Instagram. An interactive tramway map tracking the repairs can be found at shorturl.at/jAMY7.
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