Has social media claimed another outdoor destination?
Pennsylvania’s popular Glen Onoko waterfalls are now CLOSED to the public indefinitely.
Visitors have been enjoying the falls for many lifetimes, but today this classic hike comes with a trespassing fine.
Announced in mid-April of 2019, the site was officially closed on May 1st.
The closure was first presented as an appeasement to the local search and rescue team, whose resources have been increasingly exhausted here in the last decade. More people have been visiting the falls each year, and many are unprepared for its hazardous conditions.
The site is outside of park lands but not entirely private, managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
In response to public outcry, the Commission defended its decision in a claim that the trail has seen heavy erosion, rendering it even more dangerous in 2019. They went on to release that it would cost 1.2 million dollars to construct a new, safe walkway in place of the rough trail – a sum that’s simply not available to the organization at this time.
What is the Pennsylvania Game Commission?
Established in 1895, the Game Commission was granted land by the state of Pennsylvania through legislation. Their primary mission was to preserve the state’s wildlife for sportsmen.
Game lands consequently host other recreational activities (like hiking), but the Game Commission is unique in that its funding is mostly from hunting license fees.
The Commission does not receive any taxpayer money directly from the state budget, so it’s under no explicit obligation to provide for more diverse recreation.
There’s been talk of transferring Glen Onoko to the State Park system, but for now the notion is little more than a rumor.
A Tragic History
Glen Onoko Falls has cultivated a haunted history of danger and romance.
Legend says that an Indian princess called Onoko ended her life in a suicidal leap from the falls, after being forbidden to see her lover. Several variations of the story exist, but they all involve she and/or her lover falling to their death. Sounds like a scene straight out of The Last of the Mohicans.
Reportedly first called Moore’s Ravine and Hatch Falls, the title Glen Onoko was dubbed by the Lehigh Valley Railroad in the 1870s to bring in more tourists. I personally suspect that the story of the Capulet princess and her ensuing ghost originated at the same time, but the area holds a mystical intrigue nonetheless.
Modern times have witnessed a rise in accidents and tragic deaths. In recent years, rescuers have been called out again and again to perform complicated missions in dangerous conditions – occasionally multiple times in a single day. Here’s an incomplete list of incidents to give you an idea of what’s been at stake here.
A Sign of the Times
Taking into account the official statements, interviews, and public comments about the closure, most carry an undercurrent of blame on the foolish and unprepared.
Statements from the Commission and rescue personnel aren’t too shy to mention those with improper footwear (like high heels), and those who take unnecessary risks to get that perfect picture.
Glen Onoko’s closure may be viewed as another consequence of a greater trend in the outdoors. Individual land managers are struggling to keep up with increased visitation around the world.
National Parks are trampled and overrun. Other locations, like Arizona’s oft-cited Horseshoe Bend, have succumbed to more pavement, more parking lots, and less paradise.
Others, like here at Glen Onoko, have just been shut down altogether.
No waterfall for you.
Can we chalk this up to our modern culture of social media affirmation, chasing a dopamine fix through an infusion of Likes? Variations of the hashtag #glenonoko have been used 20,000 times on Instagram.
For more thoughts about the greater issue at hand, see this article about geotagging in the outdoors.
How do you feel about the closure?