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Pennsylvania Agency Defends Closure Of Beloved Hiking Trail

Michael Rubinkam
This photo shows one of the waterfalls at Glen Onoko in Jim Thorpe, Pa., Tuesday, April 16, 2019.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission said Wednesday that it would cost $1.7 million to make a beloved, well-known hiking trail safe for the public — which is why the agency plans to close it altogether.

The Glen Onoko Falls Trail has proven to be too dangerous, and the game commission has no money to fund safety improvements, said the agency's spokesman, Travis Lau, who confirmed the trail will close indefinitely on May 1.

News of the pending closure has outraged hikers and nature lovers. An online petition to keep it open has drawn more than 12,000 signatures in just a few days.

At least 10 people have died along the steep, rocky and slippery trail since the 1970s, and there have been scores of serious injuries, straining the all-volunteer rescue squads that serve the mountainous area 85 miles north of Philadelphia. Rescues and recoveries can require as many as two dozen first responders.

"It would stand to reason there are only going to be more injuries there," Lau said. "From the game commission's standpoint, this is the responsible thing to do."

He added the commission's mission is to manage wildlife and serve hunters — not maintain hiking trails.

Glen Onoko, a series of three waterfalls, has drawn tourists since the 1800s. The falls trail is one of the most scenic and well-known hiking paths in Pennsylvania.

People who violate the May 1 trail ban could be fined $100 to $200.

Hikers who flocked to the trail this week acknowledged that some visitors come unprepared for the rigors of the trail, or take unnecessary risks by getting too close to the falls, but said the game commission had no right to keep the public away from one of Pennsylvania's natural wonders.

"It's only dangerous depending on the crazy stuff you do," said Gary Meinhardt, 41, of Levittown.