LOGAN — With school out and summer around the corner, state Route 664 is busier with people on their way to the caves at Hocking Hills State Park.
However, given the three incidents that took place within a week, and before the summer season picks up more, park rangers would like to take the opportunity to remind folks to stay on the trails.
In just a short amount of time, three hikers have gone off trail at the state park, which resulted in minor injuries. Thankfully, it wasn’t worse given the terrain in the region, because it could have been life-threatening if they were in other parts of the park.
The first incident occurred on May 25, around 2 p.m. when a couple attempted to scale down a waterfall in the area of Cedar Falls. The woman fell and was injured, therefore natural resource officers engaged in a rope rescue and the woman was transported by medical helicopter for treatment.
Just as that rescue operation was underway, officers received a second call for help at Conkles Hollow on a rim trail, where a man stepped off the trail to take a better photo and fell off the edge of a cliff. The man fell 15 feet before landing on a ledge, which ultimately saved his life. If he hadn’t landed on the ledge, he would have likely fallen a total of 65 feet. The man was not injured,
and he also received help by a rope rescue.
The third incident occurred on Saturday, June 1, around 8 p.m. when a man left the trail and attempted to walk across the spillway at Rose Lake. He slipped and fell into the rocks at the bottom, causing internal injuries and was transported by medical helicopter for treatment.
One of the rangers urging folks to stay on the trails is Lt. Jeremy Davis, who has worked with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources since 1998 and with the Hocking Hills State Park since 2001. He said incidents happen in the park each year, but adding that he never has seen this many within such a short period of time this early in the season.
Officers do train often for incidents like this, but mostly during the off-season, between November through April or May, depending on when traffic in the park start to pick up.
While in training, rescuers practice lifting and lowering loads with a backboard and pick offs, which occurs when someone gets stuck on a ledge.
Davis’ training has prepared him to assist others when accidents occur, but while conducting a rope rescue one day, he had a fall of his own.
While in route to a report of a broken leg, Davis was conducting a rope rescue when he noticed the cliff edge was extremely slippery.
“I started sliding standing up toward the cliff edge and when I got to the edge, I realized I was going to go over. I ended up going over the ledge, still got up — ended up breaking my arm in the process — but I still got up and I was able to make my way around to the victim.”
The incident helps remind Davis to encourage hikers to stay on the designated trails.
“We built these trails to take people into these scenic areas — you don’t need to go off the trails to find them. We have plenty of things that you can see from the trail and it just increases the risk of injury. If it can happen to me and I know these areas, it’s certainly that much easier to happen to somebody who is not as familiar,” he said.
Naturalist Supervisor, Patrick Quackenbush, said the trails will take you to the coolest place in the park, but hikers won’t find something more magnificent by leaving them.
“What I like to tell folks all the time is there are tons and tons of poison rocks all over the place in the Hocking Hills,” Quackenbush said.
One of the couples prepared for a long hike in the region was Kim Chapman and Glen Ferguson from London, Ontario. They found out about Hocking Hills while coming back from another state park and stopped at a rest area in Ohio where they found a brochure.
“You’ve got to look after yourself. Nature is nature, it’s unpredictable — we’ve gone on some trails where there are tree roots and everything. You’ve got to watch your step and sometimes you have to stop and enjoy what’s around you too,” mentioned Ferguson.
Davis and Quackenbush also gave some tips to ensure the safety of visitors coming to the area this summer: stay on the trails; do some research of the trail you’re thinking about hiking before heading out; know what you’re getting yourself into; how long you might be out; and bring plenty of water and a snack or two in case it takes you longer.
“Bringing the proper footwear — flip-flops are not the best hiking boot, although we see a lot of them, I don’t recommend them. Making sure that they bring a map — that’s another issue that we have is people getting lost and not being able to make it back before dark. Once dark hits, the risks all increase again and now we have to send people into the area at dark to look for them,” concluded Davis.
Grace Warner is a reporter for the Logan Daily News, a sister publication of the Herald.