An Outdoor Club Decided to Hike a Closed Trail—and One of its Members Died

Pennsylvania’s Glen Onoko Falls has been the site of more than a dozen fatal accidents, the latest this Sunday.

Photo: Jonathan Mauer / EyeEm via Getty

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A 72-year old woman died after falling and suffering a severe head injury on a closed hiking trail during a group hike in Pennsylvania on Sunday. 

State police said local paramedics, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources responded to a report of an injured hiker near Glen Onoko Falls at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. Fire and EMS responders carried the woman out over icy and steep terrain. Doctors at St. Luke’s Hospital – Carbon Campus in Lehighton pronounced her dead shortly after noon.

Prior to the fall, the Philadelphia Korean Hiking Club had arranged a bus with 22 people on it to travel to the trailhead, which lies on state game land. Officials closed the 1.7-mile trail in 2019 due to erosion and damage from overuse, and multiple signs warn of fines for hikers who choose to proceed. According to local TV station 69 News, the club had been to the trailhead before and knew it was closed, but opted to hike anyway.

The club’s hikers aren’t the only ones still hitting the trail despite its closure. Since the trail was closed almost three years ago, game wardens have issued over 100 warnings to hikers caught on it. In the past 30 years, 12 people have lost their lives in this area. Injuries and rescues are not uncommon due to the trail’s steep terrain, and slippery conditions. According to Vince Yeich, Jim Thorpe’s Fire Chief, the trail was covered in ice and snow, increasing the hazard.

Prior to its closure, Glen Onoko Falls was one of Pennsylvania’s most popular trails, taking hikers past a series of four cascades. But slick rock ledges, whitewater, and visitors’ propensity for ignoring signs and approaching precipitous drops for better views buoyed the number of rescues on the trail: In 2018, The Morning Call, a local newspaper, counted 14 emergencies over ten years, including 7 deaths.

This incident comes shortly after Washington’s Palouse State Park closed precipitous terrain around its eponymous waterfall, citing 4 deaths that have occured since 2016 as the main cause for the closure. In addition to closing off these treacherous areas of the park, park officials installed fences to discourage hikers from heading off trail in an attempt to bypass the closure.