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Mother of hiker who fell from Palouse Falls last year pushes for more safety

UPDATED: Mon., April 23, 2018

FILE -Visitors to Palouse Falls State Park view the falls from the safety of the designated viewing area last year. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE -Visitors to Palouse Falls State Park view the falls from the safety of the designated viewing area last year. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

News of a Palouse Falls swimmer who disappeared Saturday comes almost a year after 25-year-old Cade Prophet went missing after falling from a cliff above the falls and into the river below.

He was pronounced dead on May 30 after a day of searching by park rangers and Franklin County deputies.

The emotional wounds are still fresh for Dorothy Prophet, Cade’s mother. Ever since her son’s death, she’s pushed state officials to install more warning signs around the popular trails that are deemed off limits to the public, and near the pool of water where Isaac Engell went missing.

She said had those signs existed last year, her son might still be alive.

The area where the 23-year-old fell is only accessible by a network of trails that take hikers feet from the edge of steep cliffs. Prophet said her son had reached the edge of one cliff, and believed it would take him down to another platform, and then eventually, to the mouth of the waterfall.

But she said it’s deceptively steep and the height plays tricks on the eyes. When he fell, she said he was probably hopping down a few feet to another trail.

“Where he was standing, you can’t see that there’s a big cliff below,” she said. “There’s what looks like a trail, and it appears as if you walk down this trail, you’ll hit the trail below, but that’s not the case.”

Prophet took a trip to the falls on April 14, where she said she observed multiple people making the same mistake as her son. They would walk down the path and realize it didn’t go anywhere. Some of them were children.

Toni Droscher, a spokesperson with the communications office at Washington State Parks, said that while there are signs at the park warning people not to stray from the designated paths, there aren’t further signs deeper into the trails and near the cliffs. There are no fences or gates either.

Many of those trails are why people venture to the falls in the first place. The waterfall, which was designated as the state’s waterfall by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2014, draws thousands of visitors each year.

Many of them risk hiking down closer to the mouth of the waterfall, or down the base where they can swim in the small lake. Some document their adventure and post it to YouTube or social media.

Droscher said there weren’t signs near the lake either, but they “don’t advise people swim down there.” After news spread of Isaac Engell’s disappearance on Saturday, she said some officials took a trip to Palouse Falls, which included surveying the trails and water below.

“There’s nothing I can respond to specifically, although there are plans in the works,” she said. “Of course, our hearts go out to the family and friends of the young man who is missing.”

Prophet said she doesn’t intend to stop pressuring state legislators and park rangers until more safety precautions are put in place.

She said she doesn’t want to close the park, or limit access to those willing to take the risk, but instead wants to make sure people know what they’re getting into before starting.

“I’m fighting so hard on this because I don’t want another mother to get the phone call that I got,” she said. “And it happened. It’s killing me. It brings me back to day one. And I was lucky they found Cade. They haven’t even found her son.”

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