City hopes new plan at Albion Falls deters hikers
High fence goes up as gorge still sees climbers and rescues
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.