After thousands of hours of labor by hundreds of volunteers manually hauling more than 600,000 pounds of materials up the incline, the Kokonut Koalition officially finished its repair project at the top of Koko Crater Stairs on Saturday morning.
Gold-plated bolts were drilled into place to secure the final repaired step at the very top, at an elevation of more than 1,000 feet, to whoops, cheers and applause — and a toast to the future of Koko Crater Stairs.
“We did it!” exclaimed Kokonut Koalition President David Nixon. “It’s an incredible day, you know, just the end of a dream for us … . You’ve gotta know Koko has made us strong. Here’s to Koko Crater, Koko Crater Stairs and the community that shaped it.”
Hundreds of dedicated volunteers spent more than 6,000 hours hauling sandbags, buckets of gravel, brackets, bolts, nuts, washers, screws and lumber up the steep trail, completing the repairs in 10 months in what was originally expected to take two to three years.
“The outpouring of community support was spontaneous, sustained and gratifying beyond belief,” Nixon said. “Every person who came out and carried a bucket of gravel or a timber or a big, heavy log up to an installation location can feel the pride of knowing that they helped rebuild one of Oahu’s jewels.”
That includes the individuals who donated to the GoFundMe campaign and grants that made the project possible when it began in January. Nixon called it a labor of love.
“It’s a legacy we’re trying to leave for the next generations,” he said, “and it’s going to be here a good, long time.”
The Kokonut Koalition, initially a group of hard-core hikers who loved the trail, became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2018 to work in partnership with the city to preserve, maintain and, eventually, overhaul the steps permanently so they can be enjoyed in perpetuity by future generations.
The city contributed about $100,000 in materials for the repair project, while the Koalition raised an additional $120,000 to complete it.
There were more than 1,100 individual donations, with a median contribution of $25. Central Pacific Bank Foundation offered a $30,000 grant, while Home Depot donated $25,000 in tools and hardware.
When all was said and done, Nixon said it was the volunteers — many of them repeat helpers — who came forward every Saturday and many weekdays, to carry a total of about 607,887 pounds of materials up the stairs, that made a difference.
He estimated about two-thirds of the steps were replaced — and what used to be about 1,048 steps is now about 1,075 steps.
The Koalition worked from the bottom up, and all the steps are now firmly bolted to the ascending rail. What hikers will notice now are cantilevered steps, particularly at the top half. Some are also wider.
Besides organizing fundraising and volunteers, Kokonut Koalition drew up the engineering plan, applied for all permits and bore the insurance liability, without have to close the trail to get it done.
“It’s exciting,” said Lena Haapala, Koalition media director. “I just can’t believe we’re here. Every single Saturday and some weekdays, it felt good to give back to the community. We’re definitely going to miss doing something.”
The experience was memorable, rewarding and fun, she said, with good friendships formed. Now she will need to figure out what to do on Saturdays.
A core group of about a dozen volunteers focused on repairs, but hundreds of others did the hauling and some spontaneously helped on their way up the trail for the first time.
Rhonel Paguirigan drove to the stairs from the Leeward side every weekend and was there again Saturday helping to haul materials.
Having hiked the trail for more than a decade, he said he was motivated by his love for hiking and making sure the trail is safe for everyone.
Volunteer Mike Kraft said he carried sandbags multiple times a day for the challenge. He had noticed the trail’s deterioration and felt he needed to lend a hand.
“We need to come out, help out and make sure everyone else can enjoy it too,” he said. “It’s a good workout, a lot of fun, and there are a lot of good people.”
Tish Sharp of Hawaii Kai, also a repeat volunteer, said the feeling of seeing that final step completed was hard to put into words after nearly a year of hard work.
“It felt like a huge accomplishment,” she said. “It felt great being a part of something that’s bigger than just myself and knowing that’s going to last for so many generations.”
The steps, which comprise wooden cross-ties from the Koko Crater tramway built by the military in 1942, became a popular hike for visitors and residents alike at Koko Head District Park in Hawaii Kai.
Due to constant foot traffic and erosion over the years, Koko Crater Stairs suffered from deterioration as the trail grew in popularity. Before the repairs, many of the ties were worn out, hollow, splintered and no longer attached to the rail — or completely missing.
Drew Murphy, the Koalition’s first president in 2018, said the trail was in a state of “benign neglect,” and that he had been trying to bring it to the city’s attention, fearing it would not last much longer.
The Kokonut Koalition’s goal has always been to keep Koko Crater Stairs open and accessible to the public.
The work continues, according to Nixon, as the steps will need to be maintained, repaired and improved. Although the replaced steps were intended as temporary, emergency repairs, the team believes they should shore up the trail for years to come.
Long-term plans for trail renovation, as well as the future of the summit platform, are still in the discussion phase.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and the city are expected to hold a formal blessing for the Koko Crater Stairs repairs Thursday.
By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.
Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.