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Precautions must be taken when hiking

Many people from the Mid-Ohio Valley enjoy a quick trip over to the Hocking Hills region occasionally. The natural beauty is breathtaking and lures thousands of people a year to its trails — many of whom are not used to being let loose amid such a stunning landscape.

A visit over Labor Day weekend would have meant guests found themselves surrounded by swarms of visitors eager to get an afternoon in the woods … but perhaps with little experience in such endeavors. One member of our staff who visited that day reported seeing folks out on difficult hiking trails with very young children, strollers, carrying purses, wearing flimsy sandals … and just generally appearing to have expected a gentler, less untamed experience.

Some of those children were running full speed down mud-slicked “stairs” cut into one of the trails. Many were ignoring signs to stay out of certain areas — and one young man took quite a tumble down a hill he should not have attempted to climb. Others were ignoring signs that expressly said NOT to wade or swim in the water, inviting as it was. An older gentleman was showing off by doing pull ups on a cliff face above Old Man’s Cave. One false move would have sent him backward over the edge.

And then, only about 15 minutes after our staffer left the trail, a woman died. Victoria Schafer, 44, of Chillicothe, was struck and killed by a falling piece of a tree, near Old Man’s Cave. Investigators have determined the piece of the tree did not fall naturally. In other words, someone pushed it over the cliff. The investigation continues, and it may yet turn out the person who dislodged that part of the tree did so with malicious intent.

But it may also have been someone who did not understand where they were in relation to those on the trail below, and simply wanted to see something fall over the edge. Something like tossing a rock into a creek.

Schafer’s is the third death in the park this summer. A 22-year-old died when he lost his footing on a cliff. A 55-year-old’s body was discovered in the woods, but her cause of death has not yet been released.

Our woods and natural wonders are unmatched for their beauty — but they are wild. They are not child-proofed safe spaces where one can turn off all common sense and enjoy a brain-free, effort-free day of behaving in whatever manner one chooses. They are wonderful places for a child to explore, as long as that child is relatively supervised and has been taught to respect them.

We are visitors there. There are consequences if we don’t respect the gift we have been given.

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