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 Lieutenant Jeremy Davis, who has worked with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources since 1998 and with the Hocking Hills State Park since 2001. The incidents that happen in the state park vary every year Davis said, but never has he 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 given summer is their busiest season of the year. Davis said training is normally November through April or May, depending on when things start to pick up around the state park.
While in training, rescuers practice load rising and lowering with a backboard and pick offs (when somebody gets stuck on a ledge). They also are each tied into two ropes, one being a safety line and one being a lowering and rising line.
During Davis’ time of service, he’s participated in countless trainings for when accidents happen to hikers in the region, 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 becoming extremely slippery.
“I started sliding standing up towards the cliff edge and when I got to 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, but I wasn’t much help to him at that point,” he explained.
Davis continued to say it was a slow motion process from the top and he thought he could control it and stop, but once he got to the edge it all happened too quick. He shared it has encouraged him even more since the incident to remind 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,” shared Davis.
Naturalist Supervisor, Patrick Quackenbush, reiterated the same point, stating the trails will take you to the coolest place in the park and by leaving you’re not going to find something more magnificent.
“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, i.e. one drop will kill you,” added Quackenbush.
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 folks coming to the area this summer.
The first tip they gave was to stay on the trails first and foremost, but to also do some research of the trail you’re thinking about hiking before you head out. Know what you’re getting yourself into, how long you could potentially be out and bring lots of water and a snack or two incase 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.