Dan­ger still ig­nored at falls

Emer­gency crews sum­moned once again as vis­i­tors pay lit­tle heed to new sig­nage, fenc­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JEFF MA­HONEY

Given the pins in the map mark­ing our es­carp­ment ac­ci­dents so far this year, we could call our­selves “The City of Wa­ter­falls Falls” with­out be­ing re­dun­dant.

But this week­end, even with height­ened safety con­cerns ris­ing to top of mind, vis­i­tors were low­er­ing them­selves to the bot­tom of the wa­ter­falls, by the throng-ful. De­spite tech­ni­cally not be­ing al­lowed. New bar­ri­ers, erected last week, seemed to have lit­tle ef­fect.

And, sure enough, on Sun­day it hap­pened again. Emer­gency crews re­sponded af­ter one per­son was in­jured at Al­bion Falls.

Fire­fight­ers say they brought out one per­son from the Falls, but couldn’t give de­tails about how the per­son was in­jured or the ex­tent of the in­juries.

Pho­tos from the scene show emer­gency work­ers car­ry­ing a pa­tient through a cut-out por­tion of the newly erected fence at the stairs down to the ravine.

It was called in as an­other rope res­cue, says Hamil­ton Fire Depart­ment fire safety of­fi­cer Steve McArthur. So seven units re­sponded but they were able to ac­cess the sit­u­a­tion by the stairs and so re­leased five units.

Al­bion Falls, the ground zero (so to speak) of the is­sue, teemed with ad­mir­ers this week­end, not so much at the look­out promon­to­ries where they should’ve been but out on the majestic out­crop­pings at the base of the cas­cade.

They waded in the shal­lows, basked on the rocks and some of the bolder ones climbed up

from the basin to the po­ten­tially treach­er­ous stages along the ter­raced cur­tain of tum­bling wa­ter.

When I vis­ited on Satur­day, the bright sun put a glo­ri­ous var­nish on the flow and the craggy cliffs opaquely vis­i­ble, as though through cob­webs, un­der­neath it.

The whole mag­nif­i­cent scene is tem­ple­like. And it is this very splen­dour, I sup­pose, that mag­ne­tizes peo­ple to find their way down around fences and bar­ri­ers, ig­nor­ing Keep Out signs.

“Do you know how we get down there?” Mario Pilon from Mis­sis­sauga asked me at the el­e­vated look­out at Up­per King’s For­est Park, where vis­i­tors are sup­posed to go to take in Al­bion Falls.

With the help of some other vis­i­tors to the look­out, I spec­u­lated how the dozens of peo­ple “down there” got there, but cau­tioned that they weren’t re­ally sup­posed to be there.

“I think I’ll try,” he de­cided. And off he went.

Maria Z (she didn’t want her last name used) was there with her fam­ily. The Toronto woman has been vis­it­ing Hamil­ton wa­ter­falls for 20 years, maybe more, so taken is she with them.

She has taken thou­sands of pho­to­graphs of them. She obeys the rules but un­der­stands why some break them.

“Look. It’s so beau­ti­ful,” she told me. I agreed.

“But it’s sad. Ev­ery sec­ond week I would go to Sher­man Falls. Then I got a park­ing ticket. I looked for the sign, it was very hid­den.” It be­comes harder and harder to ac­cess some of the Falls, and trick­ier to fig­ure out where one is al­lowed to park.

She men­tioned Web­ster’s Falls, how vis­it­ing is dis­cour­aged by higher fees and more com­pli­cated ac­cess. She doesn’t go to Sher­man Falls any­more.

“It’s a big dis­ap­point­ment,” not go­ing, she said. “There must be an­other way to give peo­ple ac­cess and to park, maybe a charge to tourists so they can make money from it.” It is a vex­ing riddle for this city: How to pro­mote our am­ple nat­u­ral glo­ries with­out pric­ing them out of reach and com­pro­mis­ing vis­i­tor safety?

I know some­one who lives near Web­ster’s Falls, and she had to tell a fam­ily of tourists that they were pic­nick­ing ... in her back­yard.

Cole and El­iz­a­beth Thorsen are avid hik­ers and be­lieve a big part of the so­lu­tion is proper “in­fra­struc­ture.”

This city sim­ply doesn’t have it, they said. If the city is draw­ing peo­ple to such nat­u­ral won­ders — as it should — and knows peo­ple are go­ing to climb down to the basins of wa­ter­falls, it should put in safe ways to get there, and per­haps charge for ac­cess.

“Hamil­ton is a hid­den gem,” when it comes to the Falls and the trails. “You can hike for hours and not see an­other per­son,” Cole told me at the look­out.

“We’ve hiked the Rock­ies and it was eas­ier to ac­cess the great views than it is here,” added El­iz­a­beth.

“We were at But­ter­milk Falls,” said Cole, “and to get the best view these Ger­man tourists had to grab onto a tree branch to get a bet­ter an­gle. Even this (the Al­bion Falls prospect) should be built close to the falls.” If the look­outs were po­si­tioned with op­ti­mal sight lines, and if falls were eas­ier to see from the trails, peo­ple wouldn’t be so ea­ger to jump fences.

“Those guys,” he said, point­ing to some slip­pery look­ing step­ping­stone-like rocks a lit­tle up the ter­race, “I wouldn’t do that with­out a har­ness. But I’ve seen peo­ple half­way up the falls.”

Later, I ran into Mario com­ing up from a trod­den path­way lead­ing to steps that have been blocked off with a big Keep Out sign.

He was smil­ing. He strad­dled the rail of the steps. “This,” he said of the strad­dle, laugh­ing, “was the most dan­ger­ous part. I took some shots (he shows me his cell­phone). It was worth it.”

Mario was one of many peo­ple get­ting down to the bot­tom of the falls that way. “It’s a lit­tle slip­pery but not too bad,” said mid­dle-aged Frank from Lon­don, Ont., who didn’t want his last name men­tioned.

“I didn’t know we weren’t al­lowed,” said Ai­dan Scott, 20, who also hap­pened to be from Lon­don.

“There was not a direct trail down to it but some trod­den path and step­ping over things a bit. Some peo­ple were go­ing up to the first level of the falls. It looked fine, like they knew their lim­its. But I could see it might be dan­ger­ous.”

“It’s very pretty, very cool, lots of great stuff to see down there,” said Ali­son Woo, 19, Ai­dan’s friend.

Sarah, Jus­tine, Sam and a few friends from McMaster Univer­sity — they live here but are all orig­i­nally from out of town — also were mak­ing the for­bid­den jour­ney down.

“We feel safe,” said Sarah. “We’re not stupid. We’re not go­ing to do some­thing crazy.”

Hamil­ton is a hid­den gem. You can hike for hours and not see an­other per­son.

HIKER COLE THORSEN

We feel safe. We’re not stupid. We’re not go­ing to do some­thing crazy.

SARAH FROM MCMASTER

Emer­gency crews as­sist an in­jured per­son at Al­bion Falls Sun­day.

PHO­TOS BY SCOTT GARD­NER, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

A man stands at the precipice of Al­bion Falls Sun­day af­ter­noon.

A woman hops over the rail­ing to ac­cess the stairs at Al­bion Falls Sun­day.

SCOTT GARD­NER, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

A man stands at the edge of Al­bion Falls Sun­day. Re­cent sig­nage and fenc­ing by the city did lit­tle to de­ter peo­ple from ac­cess­ing the pop­u­lar, yet dan­ger­ous, spot.

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