Hocking Hills Increasing Patrols, Citations After Recent Deaths

Listen to the Story

Signs like this one warn visitors to stay on park trails. Park rangers say the overwhelming majority of accidents happen when people break park rules and leave marked trails.(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)
Signs like this one warn visitors to stay on park trails. Park rangers say the overwhelming majority of accidents happen when people break park rules and leave marked trails.(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)

If you left Central Ohio over the holiday weekend, there’s a decent chance you went to Hocking Hills State Park.

The 2,400-acre park south of Lancaster is known for its caves and jetting sandstone cliffs. But lately it’s been in the news for another reason: Three visitors have fallen to their deaths in the last month.

Danger Behind The Beauty

It’s easy to understand why about 1,000,000 people come to Hocking Hills State Park every year.

 Lincoln Park, a former housing project on the far south side of Columbus.

Every summer people flock to see formations like Old Man’s Cave and the Devil’s Bathtub. But those beautiful cliffs and ledges are often moss-covered and slippery and people can get over-confident.

“Our accidents that we have range in everything from a sprained ankle all the way up to, like the recent accidents where we’ve had fatalities,” says park ranger Jeff Thompson.

Those recent fatalities began in late April when a 19-year-old man left a trail to climb down a cliff and fell. Three weeks later a man fell 130 feet to his death after slipping while rappelling, and two days later a 66-year-old man from Cleveland left a marked trail and fell to his death.

A southern Ohio woman remains hospitalized after leaving a trail and falling off a cliff last month.

Thompson says hardly any accidents happen when people obey park rules.

The problems tend to come when people break the rules, they don’t think it’s going to happen to them, they wander off the trail or they go to the areas that are unsafe, and that’s when we have the problems.

So they’re trying to keep people out of those problem zones.

 Lincoln Park, a former housing project on the far south side of Columbus.

Park officials are hanging more caution tape, printing signs in bolder colors, and issuing more citations.

A lot more citations, according to Eileen Corson with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

We’ve issued 50 citations so far this year, and we did not have any citations last year.

All 50 of this year’s citations have come in the last three weeks.

Changing Behavior

Whether it’s the increased enforcement or just publicity of the tragedies, at least some park visitors seem to be getting the hint.

“I am a little more weary of not going too close to edges, especially with the wet damp ground,” says Becky Pankratz, an avid hiker from Athens County.

Hans Hake is also more careful in the park these days. He says he and his family were unsettled when they came across the sight of one of the recent fatalities.

Terrible, he calls it, but he says he understands why the man might have pushed the boundaries of safety.

“It’s almost eye-gazing, hungry to look and see what it looks like,” Hake says. “And I’m sure that’s where he slipped.”

Park ranger Jeff Thompson calls the accidents tragic, but he hopes more people hear about them.

Maybe someone will hear about these accidents and it will keep them from going on to an area that’s not safe or that they’re not supposed to be in. Maybe it will prevent an accident in the future.

  • GoBucks1234

    I was sadden by the death of the individuals at hocking hills. However, the issuing of citations is not only a bad idea its fundamentally evil. It encourages people to believe that the state is their to protect them from all that happens. What it does is create a mentality of irresponsibility that will lead to further death and further injuries. It is a natural park it is your responsibility to be aware of the dangers and take proper precautions. Not only do citations create an attitude of irresponsibility, they turn law abiding, good citizens, into criminals. Should you really be a criminal of the state for walking off a trail? What about your 3 year old who walks off the trail to look at a frog or flower, do you believe she should be put in jail for trespassing? That is what we are asking for when we allow these laws like this to happen.

    This would be funny if it was not true. I mean, nobody is going to ban something ridiculous like large soda drinks….ohh wait, did someone just try to do that?

    Banning things are solutions for elementary minds. For the most part, I believe people are good, and if you give them freedom, they will do good things. But of course, a few bad things will happen with freedom but are fundamentally outweighed by the good that comes from freedom.

    If the attitude is no one can die at our parks, then we should close them all, because that will be the only way to prevent them.

    Don’t get me wrong, moving trails and putting up more signs and even some additional protective structures are all good. They don’t use “force and violence” of the state against the citizens and people are still free to use the park as they see fit.

    • Joseph Richard Stokes

      And when they do not issue citations, do not keep warnings up and do not enforce the rules, people will sue the park service and say ‘Why didn’t they enforce the rules and keep people safe?!’ Especially when a kid ends up falling off a cliff to their death. Rules are in place to protect people and if you can’t follow the rules then yes, you should get a ticket. It’s just like the rules of the road, we all need reminders that following the rules is crucial for all of us, whether we like them or not. I think it’s ridiculous that people always criticize the park service for issuing citations but that same people would jump on the park service for not enforcing the rules. Follow the rules and you won’t get a citation, SIMPLE.