City hopes new plan at Al­bion Falls de­ters hik­ers

High fence goes up as gorge still sees clim­bers and res­cues

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - TEVIAH MORO Al­bion

More fenc­ing to keep way­ward ex­plor­ers out of Al­bion Falls is ex­pected to be up by mid­week as the city searches for ways to re­duce spills at the pop­u­lar gorge.

Of­fi­cials are keep­ing their fin­gers crossed the $50,000 safety up­grade will de­ter vis­i­tors from plung­ing down the slip­pery rock face.

“We’d love if it worked, but we know hu­man na­ture and some peo­ple will still try to find ways around it,” says Kara Bunn, the city’s man­ager of parks and ceme­ter­ies.

The lat­est mishap at Al­bion Falls was Sun­day, when fire­fight­ers res­cued an in­jured woman there.

As first re­spon­ders car­ried her to safety, a steady stream of vis­i­tors made their exit, walk­ing back up the steep slope and over tem­po­rary fenc­ing that had been tram­pled.

Long­time lo­cal hiker Brad Gautreau can’t fathom why droves of peo­ple ig­nore warn­ing signs and ven­ture down treach­er­ous ter­rain to see the falls in­stead of from the safety of a view­ing plat­form. “I have no idea what’s in their heads.” The east Moun­tain res­i­dent says he’s

watched crowds grow at Al­bion Falls over the years and is frus­trated by the reck­less­ness.

“I’m baf­fled why peo­ple feel it’s nec­es­sary to touch the falls.”

There’s no sim­ple ex­pla­na­tion for the en masse risky be­hav­iour in the Al­bion con­text, sug­gests An­dreas Wilke, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Clark­son Uni­ver­sity in Pots­dam, N.Y.

But Wilke notes “so­cial im­i­ta­tion is a strong force,” ex­plain­ing norms vary ac­cord­ing to cul­ture.

“I think here it is in­deed per­haps that con­ta­gious na­ture, that peo­ple ‘lead’ with wrong be­hav­iour and oth­ers are too easy to fol­low up on that … and not per­fectly as­sess these risks them­selves.”

Public of­fi­cials have said the modern-day pre­oc­cu­pa­tion for post­ing the per­fect selfie to so­cial me­dia is fu­elling the pop­u­lar­ity of lo­cal wa­ter­falls and at­ten­dant risk-tak­ing.

That’s not an un­rea­son­able hy­poth­e­sis, Wilke says.

Re­search has shown that risky ac­tiv­ity is reg­u­lated by a per­son’s per­cep­tion of the risk and its ex­pected ben­e­fit, he says. That’s where the drive for val­i­da­tion on so­cial me­dia could have some cur­rency.

“I think that seems like a very strong hunch to me,” Wilke of­fers.

Bunn says there are “gor­geous” vis­tas from the view­ing plat­form, but the van­tage point doesn’t of­fer the same scale as be­ing at the base of the falls.

“That’s where you get the great pho­tos. That’s where peo­ple want to be.”

What­ever’s mo­ti­vat­ing reck­less sight­seers, the city plans to eval­u­ate how well the ex­tra fenc­ing de­ters Al­bion Falls fence-hop­pers.

It will be two me­tres high in most places and 2.5 m where ex­ist­ing guardrails could give wouldbe ad­ven­tur­ers a leg-up, Bunn notes.

“We’re try­ing to think ahead here.”

Once it’s fin­ished, the met­al­post, chain-link bar­rier will start at the view­ing plat­forms and around the north side of the falls. It will cre­ate a tri­an­gle on the south side, reach­ing past the stairs.

More signs flag­ging view­ing plat­forms, safe trails and “very pic­to­rial” warn­ings about not climb­ing on rocks or stray­ing down dan­ger­ous paths are in store.

In June, there were five res­cue calls to the Moun­tain Brow Boule­vard gorge.

That in­cluded one fa­tal­ity, when a Toronto pho­tog­ra­pher fell on June 10.

Bunn says a more ro­bust safety solution “down the road” would be stairs all the way to the bot­tom of the gorge, where vis­i­tors could ap­pre­ci­ate the falls from a view­ing plat­form.

But there’s no fund­ing for that right now, she says.

“It’s a mil­lion-dol­lar project. But it’s some­thing coun­cil would have to de­ter­mine if they want to fund.”

Ward 6 Coun. Tom Jack­son re­cently toured Al­bion Falls with po­lice, fire and EMS of­fi­cials to come up with po­ten­tial safety mea­sures.

Jack­son, who couldn’t be reached for com­ment Mon­day, pre­vi­ously said he’d like to see a city-sanc­tioned trail and view­ing area but called it a “blue-sky” idea.

I’m baf­fled why peo­ple feel it’s nec­es­sary to touch the falls. HIKER BRAD GAUTREAU

Nu­mer­ous hik­ers were mak­ing their way around and through the bar­ri­ers to ac­cess Al­bion Falls on Sun­day.


Work­ers put the fin­ish­ing touches on a new sec­tion of fence on the north side of Al­bion Falls.

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