Visitors React to Palouse Falls Closure


For Corey Dembeck, there is something magical about Palouse Falls State Park.

“It’s the Grand Canyon of Washington,” said Dembeck, Olympia resident and founder of Sojournlist, a travel blog.

But an Instagram photo taken by Baltzer prompted a response from the Washington State Parks Department. The department said Dembeck and his family were outside the park’s designated areas and they should respect Indigenous land.

The state department closed sections of the park last month after a series of deaths in recent years by hikers who traveled outside of designated areas. Four visitors died in the park between 2016 and 2018. Parts of the park will be permanently closed and three viewpoints will remain open, according to the Tri-City Herald.

“That is absolutely a tragedy,” Dembeck said. “But should it stop the hundreds or thousands of people who are prepared and talented hikers?”

They did not get within 10 feet of the edge and walked through an open gate big enough to drive a tractor-trailer through, Dembeck said.

Tyler Hammer, a 22-year-old citizen of the Cherokee Nation, visited Palouse Falls last October. He enjoys the outdoors because it is a part of his heritage.

Hammer has mixed emotions about the closures, he said. He does not feel nature should be closed off.

“It’s a beautiful place and people can have accidents anywhere in the wild,” Hammer said.

Oliver Baltzer, 18-year-old student at Whitman College in Walla Walla, was not surprised by the closures.

It’s understandable because the small trails above the waterfall seem incredibly dangerous, Baltzer said. The main trail, however, is fairly safe.

“A couple of my friends were talking about jokingly going on the trail or skiing on the trail,” Baltzer said, “and it was an obvious joke because it was so dangerous.”

Baltzer also noticed the signage. There were warnings, he said, that people died and going past certain points would be at your own risk. 

The signs did not specifically prohibit access though, Dembeck said. Trails are also unmarked so it’s not clear which trails are and aren’t allowed.

Kittrick Kane, 33-year-old Eltopia resident, always brings visiting friends and family to Palouse Falls.

Kane walked out to the edge above the falls on his first visit, before the warning signs were added.

It’s been a staple in his life while in college and living in the area, Kane said. It’s a shame to have the falls in his backyard and not be able to access it.

“For me it’s a place of recharging my need for nature and solace and adventure,” Kane said. “I hope everyone gets to feel that.”

There is an instant reaction near a cliff, Dembeck said. It’s nerve-wracking to get close to the edge and most are aware of the danger.

The signs are misguided, Dembeck said.

Dembeck said the pointing to disrespect of Native lands by Washington State Parks seems disingenuous. Their time would be better spent improving recognition of the people who once lived there, he said.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission voted to rename the park to Palouse Falls State Park Heritage Site to make clear to visitors it is a special place, according to the Tri-City Herald.

**Jacqueline Thomasson is a journalism student at Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.** 

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