PA Game Commission To Close Popular Hiking Trail, Citing Safety

Apr 16, 2019

Pennsylvania officials are closing one of the most scenic and popular hiking trails in the state because of longstanding concerns about its safety, prompting backlash from hikers.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is closing the main Glen Onoko Falls trail in Jim Thorpe as of May 1, according to state Rep. Doyle Heffley, who represents the area and said Tuesday that game commission officials had informed him of the decision.

Glen Onoko has been the scene of dozens of serious accidents over the years, and several deaths, straining the region's all-volunteer fire departments. Rescues and recoveries can require as many as two dozen first responders.

Ill-prepared hikers can easily hurt themselves on the steep, rocky and slippery terrain, said Mark Nalesnik, coordinator of the Carbon County Emergency Management Agency. Some get too close to the edge of the falls and plummet over the side. Others wander off the trail and become lost.

"It's very labor intensive for our emergency responders," Nalesnik said Tuesday. "The same four or five people who go in can't complete the thing on their own because it's too taxing, too dangerous and too far to carry someone out on a basket. I don't believe the general public realizes how much of an effort it takes to safely and successfully rescue someone out of that area."

Glen Onoko is on the southern end of Lehigh Gorge State Park, a popular attraction in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Philadelphia. It's drawn tourists from the city and throughout the region since the 1800s. Visitors once arrived by train, staying at an opulent Victorian hotel that stood near the falls until it burned in 1911.

An online petition to keep the trail open quickly attracted thousands of signers.

Like many locals and outdoors enthusiasts, Brandon Huffman, 23, lamented the pending closure of one of the region's most notable scenic spots.

"It's going to hurt a lot of people. It's really a shame and I hope they reconsider," he said.

Huffman, who grew up in nearby Jim Thorpe and has hiked Glen Onoko many times, said that as long as you have good shoes and stick to the trail, it's not that difficult.

"To close off nature doesn't send the best signal," he said. "Nature can be dangerous. You just have to have your wits about you and have some common sense."

A message was left for a Game Commission spokesman.