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Let’s keep beloved hiking trail open

Published April 19. 2019 11:24AM

The Pennsylvania Game Commission hunkered down this week in its defense of the decision to close indefinitely the iconic Glen Onoko Falls Trail near Jim Thorpe.

Although there were hints that the commission might take this drastic step, few expected it to happen. Some have speculated that the commission was floating a trial balloon and that it might come up with a Plan B before the order is scheduled to take effect on May 1, but that seems to be unlikely.

On top of that, violators would now be fined up to $200.

There have been ongoing complaints and concerns from officials and first responders about the number of people who have been killed or injured as they attempted to interact with the spectacular falls at Glen Onoko.

Despite the fact that many of these incidents were caused by people’s reckless and unsafe behavior, it seems like a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

I remember when I was in elementary school in my hometown of Summit Hill that some teachers would punish the entire class for the bad behavior of one or two.

That’s what’s happening here. Those of us who act responsibly and obey the many signs and warnings posted at this pristine wonderland must pay for the sins of the inconsiderate louts and adventure-seekers who think it is cool to make idiots of themselves and tempt fate with dangerous stunts.

I just watched a YouTube vlog by a Nazareth Area High School student that he took of himself and three companions who ventured onto a ledge overlooking a ravine along the trail so they could brag about it to their friends.

The signs along the trail and falls are explicit. One is accompanied by a skull and crossbones — “Danger: People have been seriously hurt or killed in this area. Extreme caution should be observed at all times.”

Of course, the commission says this is just one verse of a complex song. It says that it would cost $1.7 million to make the necessary changes to ensure safety for the public. One idea is to install barriers that will compromise the scenic beauty that attracts thousands to this locale in the first place.

We’re not talking about some out-of-the-way, rarely used destination.

The commission, through its spokesman Travis Lau, says it has no money to make the improvements that are necessary to reopen the trail. I find this to be preposterous. With a statewide budget of more than $33 billion, to say that we cannot come up with the necessary funds defies logic. Maybe if we didn’t waste time debating the merits of an official state salamander, we could get some brain power working to solve this problem.

And, by the way, where is Gov. Tom Wolf, who has been uncharacteristically silent about this controversial decision.

State Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, has gotten a lot of pressure from first responders who are out of patience with those who behave badly then require rescue responses.

Heffley is being tugged in all directions, because there are others who are outraged at the closing and aren’t shy about expressing their pointed views in social media posts. In fact, an online petition to keep the trail open has attracted nearly 15,000 signatures.

One signer said, “It’s too bad a few people who don’t prepare and heed warnings have to ruin it for the majority of responsible hikers and climbers. I fear once no one is allowed there the graffiti taggers will just do more damage.”

Look, I am not overlooking the deaths of about a dozen people since the 1970s and injuries to scores more, but there are thousands of scenic places in the United States which have an element of danger.

If those who want to enjoy the beauty and grandeur of these sites understand the dangers involved and follow the posted rules, as millions have at Glen Onoko with happy endings, then why must government intervene to save the unthinking and reckless ones from themselves.

While members of the commission say they understand the public outrage, they also say that they have a responsibility to the public’s safety. Our area firefighters and other first responders say the same thing.

Not only that, but these rescues are laborious, dangerous and sometimes treacherous, and local fire officials say the pool of volunteers is dwindling.

The commission also says that its mission is to serve hunters and develop wildlife management programs, not supervise and maintain hiking trails. To this I say let’s get a state agency which is able to perform this function. Don’t pass the buck.

One plausible idea is for the commission to transfer the trail maintenance and supervision to the neighboring Lehigh Gorge State Park where rangers would take over the task. The state park is overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Another idea which has merit is to create an emergency route to help first responders get to the location more quickly.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

Comments
Bruce, there are thousands of scenic places in the United States which have an element of danger, and they too give great evidence to the dumbing down of man. People are falling off points at the Grand Canyon and other places like such. I blame... Smart Phones... yeah!
I still believe this is a combo CYA and possible expense recovery for the EM squads. With fines now imposed on a trespassing scenario the game commission is protected from any litigation for injuries. And EM squads may be able to bill the individuals that need rescuing or recovering.

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