Officials urge caution on local trails

State destroys picnic table near falls where 10-year-old girl drowned

Posted: Tuesday, June 18, 2002

In a rest area off Perseverance Trail and alongside Ebner Falls, a hollow tree stump holds arrangements of mums, carnations and eagle feathers.

A picnic table that previously sat precariously near the falls now is in shambles in the woods along the trail.

It was just above the falls that 10-year-old Brittany Mills slipped while wading on Friday, fell into the rushing waters and was swept to her death.

She was in town with a church group from Kake, a community of about 700 people on Kupreanof Island, about 95 miles southwest of Juneau.

Because of limited ferry service, a group of eight children and two adults traveled from Kake to Juneau two days early for the Southeast Assembly of God Youth Camp, which started on Sunday. They decided to go hiking and stopped at the picnic area around noon to cool off.

Small pools of water, where some of the kids were playing, run directly into the rushing current that is within 30 feet of the falls.

Deenie Rose, wife of Juneau Christian Center Pastor Mike Rose and who has helped organize the church camp, said the area attracts people and a sign should be put in place warning them of the dangers.

"I don't necessarily think they shouldn't have been on that trail," Rose said. "I think having a picnic table in the area says, 'This is a picnic area. Come in and splash your feet around.' "

Rose said she knows of several people who have moved the table back from the water's edge.

On Monday, workers from the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation dragged the picnic table to an area to the side of the trail and broke it into pieces. Parks Superintendent Bill Garry said the table was removed because "it was old" and not because it attracted people too close to the falls. Garry said the broken parts will be removed.

He also said a sign at the beginning of the trail tells people to take caution while hiking on the trail. The Division of Parks sign says "sharp drop-offs along portions of the trail are a hazard for small children," and reminds hikers they are using the trail at their own risk.

"I wish there was a way that everyone could be protected, but there isn't," Garry said, noting that about 35,000 people travel on the trail every year and signs and barriers closing off dangerous areas generally are ignored.

"There are dangers present all summer and winter, and you have to be very careful where you go," Garry said. "There have been attempts to close the trail with gates, but people generally ignore them and go around it. We don't have the time or the money to police it every day, and that's what you'd have to do to keep people out."

Ben Blackgoat was a Juneau-Douglas High School runner with Olympic dreams when he died in a Nov. 27, 1996, training accident on Perseverance Trail. Blackgoat fell some 300 feet to his death from a treacherous section of the path that runs far above Gold Creek.

Juneau parks and landscape superintendent Bob Grochow, who oversees maintenance for a portion of Perseverance Trail, said the city took responsibility for part of the trail in 1999. He said the city is charged with removing fallen trees and other obstructions blocking the trail and maintaining drainage, vegetation and bridges.

Grochow said the state is responsible for the picnic area next to Ebner Falls. But Garry said the city is responsible for the area. Grochow said the two entities will talk within the next few days to decide what, if anything, will be done with the area.

For trail safety, Grochow advised hikers to stay back from the edge of the trails and remain aware of their surroundings. He said kids should be supervised by an adult.

Recommendations for trail safety from the U.S. Forest Service include:

• Tell someone where you are going and when you'll be back.

• Wear appropriate clothing and footgear.

• Stay with your group.

• Carry extra clothing, food and water.

• Respect and give space to wildlife.

• Boil or treat water before drinking.

• Stay on the trail.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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