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Unmarked trails reopen at Palouse Falls, with warnings

Unofficial hiking trails at Palouse Falls State Park in Franklin County have reopened, but hikers are warned to use them at their own risk.
Unofficial hiking trails at Palouse Falls State Park in Franklin County have reopened, but hikers are warned to use them at their own risk. Tri-City Herald

Trails at Palouse Falls State Park have been reopened, but hikers are warned to use them at their own risk.

Temporary fencing was erected in late 2015 to keep people off potentially dangerous trails at the state park 20 miles east of Kahlotus. Franklin Fire District 2 had seen its resources stretched by having to respond to at least a dozen emergency calls within a year.

Designated trails at the park were reopened in late March with warning signs posted where trails have been created by visitors — some of them developed from trails used by animals.

“We’re not encouraging people to use trails because of a lot of risk,” said Toni Droscher, State Parks and Recreation Commission spokeswoman.

Anyone traveling beyond the warning signs assumes all risk, according to the parks and recreation commission, which worked with the Office of Attorney General to come up with language for the signs.

If people need to be rescued, they will be billed for the cost, Droscher said.

The unofficial trails travel along ledges and high cliffs where people can easily lose their footing.

“Everyone wants to get that really great shot,” she said.

When the trails were fenced off, users complained that they could not go beyond the parking lot, campground and overlook area for the waterfall.

The state continues to look for long-term solutions for safe access, Droscher said. It is creating an advisory committee and will develop a trail plan for the park.

The park’s popularity has increased since the students of the Washtucna School District succeeded in having Palouse Falls declared Washington’s official state waterfall in 2014.

Visitors increased to about 120,000 people annually from 46,000 a decade earlier.

The trails that have become an issue take off from the end of a maintained trail down a dirt slope to an area near Union Pacific railroad tracks. Hikers then go down a rocky switchback to reach the rapids of the Palouse River, just upstream from the falls.

Some 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.

Those who want input into a survey on trail use, or would like to serve on the advisory committee for the park’s trail plan, may call 509-337-6457. They also can leave their contact information in the pay box at the park.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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