Last year at this time we were sad and concerned over an unsettling pattern of spring-time deaths at Palouse Falls State Park.
Four young men had died at the falls over a three-year period — two of them just a year ago.
The tragedies prompted state officials to put up more harshly-worded warning signs and add temporary fencing to better mark the developed trail, which everyone hoped would make a difference.
Now, heading into the Memorial Day weekend, we are relieved there have been no deaths at the park so far this year.
In order for this encouraging streak to continue, however, people shouldn’t become complacent about understanding the risks at the popular Franklin County tourist spot.
But we are afraid that is exactly what might happen.
Apparently, there are still visitors who don’t fully comprehend the danger of going off the official path.
Audra Sims, Blue Mountain area manager for Washington State Parks, said some people are going outside the developed area of the park despite all the warnings, and they are taking risks they shouldn’t.
“People overestimate their abilities,” Sims said.
She said there are warnings posted on social media, on a message board heading into Palouse Falls and signs along the trails. Yet some people refuse to follow them.
Part of the problem is that unofficial paths have been worn down by others trying to get a closer look at the waterfall, and those trails appear safer than they truly are.
People who think they are fit and experienced will venture out because they believe since others have done it, they can too.
But there are good reasons hikers are supposed to stay on the designated path. The ledges have crumbled under people’s feet, and there are rattlesnakes in the area.
And, Sims said, nobody should ever try to swim in the plunge pool of the falls.
She said the hydraulics of the pool “suck things down …. no human being is a match for the physics.”
Also, the undeveloped area around the waterfall is a protected natural resource long used by Native Americans that should be respected and left alone, said Sims.
The park offers three safe, distinct spots to view the falls, and that’s where visitors should stay.
For those who have never seen it, Palouse Falls truly is breathtaking. It’s in a desolate location, and finding such a beautiful waterfall seemingly in the middle of nowhere is a spectacular sight.
It was carved more than 13,000 years ago and has a dramatic 198-foot drop into a deep, swirling pool. And while its remoteness adds to its eye-catching beauty, it also makes it more difficult if there is an emergency.
There is little to no cellphone service, and the nearest hospital or emergency clinic is at least an hour away, which means that’s about how long it will take for emergency crews to arrive.
The park was once considered just an Eastern Washington hidden treasure, but ever since Palouse Falls was named the official state waterfall in 2014, the park’s popularity has soared.
In just over a decade, annual visitors have jumped from 46,000 to 200,000 — so it isn’t as hidden as it used to be.
But it is stunning and you will be glad you made the drive to see it. (You’ll need a state Discover Pass to get in the park.)
After a string of heart-rending deaths at the park, however, we are ready for people to take better care and appreciate the waterfall from afar.
As gorgeous as it is, getting a close-up look is not worth losing your life.