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Hiking trails should remain open at Palouse Falls

Bureaucrats should emphasize personal responsibility, instead of ending public access

Palouse Falls has long been one of my favorite places to hike.

Over the years, I've hiked the mile or so trek to the top of the main falls on numerous occasions. I've hiked it by myself, with friends and even my daughter when she was very young. I've meandered along the Palouse River to the upper falls and descended the basalt rim to the pool at the base of the falls about 189 feet below.

For those of us who grew up in Eastern Washington, hiking Palouse Falls trails has long been a rite of passage.

But not anymore, not if the state Parks and Recreation Commission's recent decision to close hiking trails is allowed to stand.

Last week, the commission decided to shut down the trails to the top of the falls and inside the basin. The decision came at the behest of city-dwelling bureaucrats inside posh Washington State Parks offices in Tumwater – approximately 280 miles away.

This isn't the first time bureaucrats in the agency have tried to shut down recreation here.

About five years ago, the agency fenced off access and tried to eliminate access to trails, the river and the falls. But hikers, kayakers and others would have none of it.

Visitors climbed the fences or hiked around them. They found ways to get their kayaks to the upper falls and their fishing gear into the basin. The result – the fences came down and the hiking trails reopened to the public that owns them.

In place of fences, warning signs noting the dangers went up, and remain along the trails today.

This attempt to shutter hiking comes with an added attack on recreation – agency employees want to close the campground at Palouse Falls, too.

As for hiking, bureaucrat Laura Moxham believes it's too dangerous for you and I to make the hike. She notes that four people have died in the area during the last five years. Heck, she doesn't think it's safe enough for guided hikes.


Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams can be dangerous, too. But they remain open for hikers, campers and other outdoor recreationalists. The same can be said of the trails along the Cascade Crest, through the Olympic Mountains and at a myriad of other places in our state.

It may not even be legal for the commission to close the routes that access the Palouse River.

A navigable waterway under federal law, the Palouse River has long been used for boating, fishing and recreation.

Even the falls has been "navigated." Kayaker Tyler Bradt set a world record kayaking over the main falls on April 21, 2009.

No, I'm not suggesting others should try a ride over the falls – I'm just pointing out the activity is already established and protected by federal law.

U.S. Supreme Court cases have established that a state is prohibited form restricting use of navigable waters. Furthermore, the highest court in the nation has said all Americans have a right to use navigable waters.

Depriving Americans of access to the Palouse River – access that has long existed – is beyond the authority granted to agency employees and the commission.

The plan to restrict hiking isn't about safety. It's about government control.

Rather than trying to keep hikers off the trails, kayakers off the river and fishermen off the basin shore, parks officials should require responsibility.

Hikers, kayakers and fishermen should be held responsible for their actions.

Those who fall and get hurt should have to pay for the costs of their rescue. Those who get stuck in the basin should too, as should those kayakers who find the rapids more than they are prepared for.

The state Parks and Recreation Commission needs to revisit the decision and keep trails to the upper reaches of the Palouse River and down into the basin should open.

- Roger Harnack is the publisher of Free Press Publishing. Email him at [email protected].

Author Bio

Roger Harnack, Publisher

Author photo

Roger Harnack is the co-owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Having grown up Benton City, Roger is an award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and publisher. He's one of only two editorial/commentary writers from Washington state to ever receive the international Golden Quill. Roger is dedicated to the preservation of local media, and the voice it retains for Eastern Washington.


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