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Hocking Hills Increasing Patrols, Citations After Recent Deaths
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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.
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.
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.
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.