Sheriff urges caution at Eagle Creek area

The USDA Forest Service Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind visitors to recreate responsibly this summer at Eagle Creek Recreation Area. Hood River County Sheriff’s Office responds to an average of 10 search and rescue calls a year in this area, and in 2013 the total was 17.

The majority of search and rescue calls are centered on visitors jumping off Punchbowl Falls, which has resulted in serious injuries and fatalities.

In 2011 the Forest Service enacted a closure order for jumping or diving off the falls, which serves a three hundred dollar fine for violators. The closure order was enacted to provide for visitor safety and to reduce adverse impacts to the Sheriff’s Office and to search and rescue personnel.

Despite signage and patrols, the closure order continues to be violated and recreating visitors are being seriously injured.

Visitors who have jumped off the 80-foot waterfall suffer neck and back injuries, and succumb to dangerous undercurrents and water that is shallower than it appears. While a body of water is tempting in warm weather, many visitors do not realize how cold the water stays here year round.

The multiple search and rescue operations at Eagle Creek drain valuable resources at the Sheriff’s Office and have led to difficulty getting volunteer searchers to help. “We want people to enjoy the numerous outdoor activities our county has to offer but that comes with a level of personal responsibility,” said Hood River County Sheriff Matt English. “Too often, the search and rescues we respond to are avoidable and have resulted from reckless, irresponsible behavior.” The Sheriff’s Office says that it is imperative that visitors educate themselves regarding trail restrictions and closures and abide by them. “Jumping from Punchbowl Falls is prohibited for good reason,” English added “Yet we continue to see tragic, avoidable incidents at that location every year.”

Both agencies also remind visitors that dogs at Eagle Creek trail and parking lot must be leashed at all times. Several pet rescues have occurred here in recent years and these efforts put volunteer rescuers at risk. Violators will be cited.

Both agencies are asking visitors to recreate responsibly in the Eagle Creek Recreation Area by not taking unnecessary risks and obeying all closures and regulations.

Visitors should not rely on electronic GPS devices or cell phones and always leave an itinerary with someone.

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