TRAILS -- Palouse Falls State Park visitors, especially hikers and photographers, aren't so free to roam as they were just a few months ago.
Fences have been installed as a safety measure to close some unauthorized trails around the scenic Palouse River waterfall that plunges about 190 feet over a basalt cliff.
The Tri-City Herald reported Tuesday that temporary fencing has been in place at Palouse Falls State Park for two months, limiting the use of unauthorized trails at the park.
- Some of those trails are documented in the guidebook Day Hiking Eastern Washington.
State Parks and Recreation Commission spokeswoman Toni Droscher said the fences were set up because people venture into dangerous areas when visiting Washington’s state waterfall.
“They’re going to some pretty treacherous places that really weren’t meant for humans to walk on,” she said.
Many visitors to the park walk 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 (known as upper Palouse Falls), just upstream from the falls.
- Upper Palouse Falls cannot be seen from the main parking lot and visitor area.
Others venture along the edge of the river until they are directly above the crest of the falls. Some walk along a small trail around the edge of the canyon and climb down to the falls’ base.
- The hiking public needs to have a conversation with State Parks managers to address these closures. There's no good reason for blocking hikers from walking down to the pool below the falls.
The fencing – marked with “keep out” signs – limits visitors to the parking lot, campground and overlook area for the waterfall.
The trails were started by past visitors, but 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.
Palouse Falls was named Washington’s state waterfall last year after a group of nearby Washtucna School District students encouraged lawmakers to sponsor a bill. The bill was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee at a March 2014 ceremony at the state park.