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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 25, 2008

Koko Crater trail lovers to rally

Photo galleryPhoto gallery: Koko Crater trail

By Kim Fassler
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Amie Klemmer of 'Aina Haina walks the Koko Crater summit trail. The city has cited gunfire from nearby Koko Head Shooting Complex as a danger for trail users, although there have been no reported incidents.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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What: Hawai'i Kai Neighborhood Board meeting

When: 7 p.m. tomorrow, preceded by a rally by trail supporters at 6:30

Where: Haha'ione Elementary School

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Park in the upper parking lot of the Koko Head District Park at 423 Kaumakani Street in Hawai'i Kai.

The trail starts behind the uppermost baseball field. Follow the paved road that leads from the parking lot on foot to the beginning of the stairs.

About halfway through the hike, the stairs become very steep and the trail may be daunting for those who are afraid of heights. The trail is not shaded, so the best times to hike are in the morning and late afternoon when the weather is cooler.

First-time hikers should allow about an hour to hike to the 1,208-foot summit, depending on fitness level. The summit offers a 360-degree view that includes Hawai'i Kai, Hanauma Bay and the inside of the crater.

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An aborted city attempt to declare a popular Koko Crater hiking trail off limits has hikers and others primed for tomorrow's Hawai'i Kai Neighborhood Board meeting.

The future of the trail will be one of the primary topics of discussion, and city parks director Lester Chang will be there to field questions.

"We're not here in the Parks and Recreation Department to deny anybody anything," Chang said on Friday. "This is a unique situation where there are conflicting uses in the same area."

He would not answer specific questions about what actions the department is considering for the trail or why the signs were posted, saying only that they were "inadvertently put up too soon" and that he would wait until tomorrow to discuss the issue further.

"I cannot control people in what they do," he said. "But I think it's our responsibility to warn people if it's dangerous."

Also known as the Koko Crater stairs, the trail follows an abandoned World War II-era railroad track straight up the side of Koko Crater.

It is featured on many Web sites for its panoramic views from the 1,208-foot summit. Hundreds of people can be seen scaling the path every week, especially on weekends.

Residents fear the railroad tracks may meet the same fate as the Ha'iku Stairs closed for repairs and never reopened.

On Feb. 15, city workers erected "Keep Out" signs at the base of the trail, warning hikers not to enter. The signs were removed that afternoon after public outcry and an impromptu protest.

Several years ago, the city spent $875,000 to renovate the Ha'iku Stairs, a 3,922-step climb to Pu'u Keahiakahoe peak, but never reopened the popular Kane'ohe attraction after residents complained about trespassing hikers. However, many people ignore the official restrictions and continue to hike on the stairs.

"They say they'll come in and renovate it, but that's what happened to Ha'iku Stairs," said Wing Ng, 60, who uses the Koko Crater steps and says he is against the city intervening.

"I think that's probably the common message of people who use the railroad," he said. "It's in great shape right now, better than it was before. So please don't try to fix it. We don't need your help."

At Koko Crater, hikers use the wooden railroad ties as steps, although many of the ties are damaged and some have been almost completely eaten away, replaced by rocks and dirt.

At one point about halfway up the trail, the ground below the tracks suddenly drops off. Hikers cross the "bridge" by hopping from tie to tie, often over spaces large enough to fall though. Some crawl over on their hands and knees.

"If the real issue is with regard to maintenance, then there are other possibilities," said Hawai'i Kai Neighborhood Board chairman Greg Knudsen, who hiked the trail on Thursday. "We should talk with community groups and look into the city providing some kind of support. (The trail) has become one of most-used recreation trails on the island, and that's worth supporting."

The city has also cited live fire from nearby Koko Head Shooting Complex as a danger for hikers, although there have been no reported incidents.

The Parks Department operates the complex, which is open to the public and used by city, state and federal law enforcement officers for training.

On an average day, the facility may be used by different groups from morning to evening, from 8 a.m. to around 8 p.m., said range master Mike Muramoto. The range is especially popular with the public on Sundays, with lists of people waiting to get in, he said.

Residents last week asked whether the shooting range hours might be adjusted with the opening of HPD's $6.2 million indoor shooting facility in Waipahu, scheduled for completion by the end of the year. The range will give officers access to training 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But HPD plans to eventually use both facilities, HPD spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter said on Thursday. The Waipahu facility cannot accommodate long-range shooting, which officers must practice at the Koko Crater complex, she said.

"All we want to do is go out to the mountains and hike," said Dayle Turner, a former president of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club who maintains a hiking and backpacking blog. "It seems like more and more of these opportunities are being denied."

Turner said it would be difficult for the city to choose the trail over the shooting complex if it came to keeping one and not the other.

"Hikers as a lobbying group, we're not really vocal or political," he said. "If you put a sign up at Koko Head shooting range (saying it was closed), you would see a huge protest."

Reach Kim Fassler at fassler@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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