State closes Palouse Falls trails to public

Palouse Falls trails have been blocked by fencing.
Palouse Falls trails have been blocked by fencing. Tom Foster

Visitors to Washington’s state waterfall are being asked to keep a safe distance.

Temporary fencing has been in place at Palouse Falls State Park for two months, limiting the trails that people can hike at the park.

State Parks and Recreation Commission spokeswoman Toni Droscher said the fences were set up because people venture into potentially dangerous areas.

“They’re going to some pretty treacherous places that really weren’t meant for humans to walk on,” she said.

Many people at the park have continued past the end of a maintained trail, then down a dirt slope to an area near Union Pacific railroad tracks. They then go down a rocky switchback to reach the rapids of the Palouse River, just upstream from the falls.

Others venture farther, walking along the edge of the river until they are directly above the crest of the falls. Some even maneuver along a small trail around the edge of the canyon and climb down to the falls’ base.

They’re going to some pretty treacherous places that really weren’t meant for humans to walk on.

Toni Droscher, spokeswoman for State Parks and Recreation Commission

Users complain that the fencing — marked with “keep out” signs — doesn’t allow people to go beyond the parking lot, campground and overlook area for the waterfall.

An outdoor group at Whitman College in Walla Walla visited the park in October, but was unable to go beyond the overlook, according to a story in the school’s newspaper. The story said students like to hike and jump cliffs there.

The trails were started by a few people, but they have grown and become more established, Droscher said. Franklin Fire District 2 has seen its resources stretched by having to respond to at least a dozen emergency calls in the past year at the remote park 20 miles east of Kahlotus.

Other issues arise from the growing popularity of the park. About 120,000 people visited Palouse Falls last year, compared with 46,000 in 2005, Droscher said.

Park managers plan to replace the fencing with signs, including ones with a message about safety, Droscher said. They are working on short- and long-term plans for Palouse Falls.

“We will also do outreach to the blogs and organizations that are encouraging people to use the trails,” she said.

The hiketricities.com site includes Palouse Falls among its top 40 hikes in the area, and features a map showing how to get to the top of the falls. The administrator of the site could not be reached for comment Monday.

Palouse Falls was named Washington’s state waterfall last year after a group of nearby Washtucna School District students encouraged Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, to sponsor a bill. The bill passed the state House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee at a March 2014 ceremony at the state park.

Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543, @GeoffFolsom