August 28, 2008

Fence Around Fall Creek Gorge Attempts to Block Access

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As students flock to the gorges of Fall Creek to enjoy the last days of summer, they will run into a problem that may cut their warm weather fun short: a large wire fence. After the tragic drowning of Douglas Lowe ’11 over the summer, the portion of Fall Creek Gorge located under the suspension bridge has been closed off by a fence.
The fence, which runs along one side of the gorge, was erected as a temporary solution to the high number of injuries and deaths that occur at this particular portion of Fall Creek. Plaques commemorating the lives of those who have drowned over the years can be seen along the path leading down to the gorge.
Kathy Zoner, the deputy chief of Cornell University Police Department, stated in an e-mail: “There are various types of fences near the gorges on campus. There are two fences built to restrict access to former pathways, the newest one is about 15 feet long and 8 feet tall at the trailhead near [the West Campus fraternity] Fiji. Its intention was to warn of dangers below and decommission the trail, as the trail served no purpose except to allow access to a dangerous natural area where we responded to multiple deaths in the past few years.” [img_assist|nid=31249|title=Fenced in|desc=The new fence erected by the CUPD, Cornell and city officials cuts off the path to the Fall Creek Gorge. It already has a hole in it.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Cornell is working closely with City of Ithaca officials and CUPD to investigate the issue and determine any alternative solutions. Their main goal is to create better and more accessible ways to communicate the dangers of swimming and hiking in the gorges.
“Cornell has been part of a task force lead by the City of Ithaca. Gorge safety is not only a Cornell community issue, but a city wide problem,” said Simeon Moss ‘73, director of Cornell Press Relations. “The decision to build the fence was made jointly by a number of people including city officials, senior administrators and CUPD.”
Before the fence was constructed, signs were posted informing people that swimming in the gorge is illegal. However, due to repeated thefts of the signs, alternative measures have been taken.
“Gorges are one of Cornell’s defining features but they also represent a safety concern. Fall Creek Gorge will be reopened when the community realizes the dangers of the gorges,” Moss said.
So far, the University has received mixed responses from students, faculty, staff and alumni. Many believe that more needs to be done to inform the community about gorge safety, while others question the overall purpose and effectiveness of the fence.
“I’ve received a couple of letters from alumni, some who were concerned about promoting gorge safety and others who wanted to know why the fence was put up,” Moss said.
Even though swimming in the gorges is prohibited and a fence has been constructed, students are still finding ways to enter the gorges and vandalize the area.
“Signs prohibiting access have been stolen and a hole has been cut in the fence. Additionally, people have clearly attempted to circumvent the fence, putting themselves in significant danger of serious physical injury or death due to the treacherous terrain,” Zoner stated in an e-mail.
Many students who have chosen to ignore the signs and pass through the fence feel that swimming in the gorges will never be prevented.
“A fence isn’t going to stop people from swimming in the gorges. Students have been swimming here for decades; if people want to swim, they will,” said one swimmer who wished to remain anonymous.
However, not all students feel that the fence is a bad idea.
“If a fence helps to prevent the death of another student; I’m all for it, even at the cost of my own recreation,” said Adam Baratz ’11.
University officials and CUPD hope that students will realize just how dangerous the gorges are. Over the next few months, they will be working hard to find ways to alert students of the dangers and inform them of safer alternatives to swimming in the gorges.
“The risks are real, and the warning signs are in place for very real reasons. There is little more devastating than having to talk to the parents of a bright young person and tell them that their son or daughter died while engaged in risky behavior,” Zoner stated in an e-mail. “When there is so much to do and so much available for fun and relaxation, circumventing preventative devices and ignoring warnings at great risk to oneself, is simply not worth the potential price.”
A brochure that provides the Cornell community with information about gorge safety is currently being distributed. The pamphlet clearly states that swimming in the two gorges on campus, Cascadilla Creek Gorge and Fall Creek Gorge, is against the law. The pamphlet can also be found online at