CHARLESTON — A recent flurry of rock-throwing incidents involving hikers on Endless Wall Trail in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve imperiled climbers in the Diamond Point area and prompted park officials to announce such activity “could kill climbers and hikers below.”
A public service announcement was posted last week on the park’s official Facebook page after a rock climber told park rangers that climbers ascending routes more than 100 feet below the clifftop trail “were subjected to multiple people throwing large rocks” during the weekend.
“At least one of the rocks fell just a couple of feet away from someone who was climbing and could have been fatal” had the climber been struck, according to the announcement.
“We have had some issues with people throwing rocks off the cliffs in the past and have placed signs along trails with popular climbing areas below them,” said Eve West, the park’s chief of interpretation.
But with record visitation in the Gorge this year due to its new national park status and more people opting to practice social distancing in the outdoors during the COVID pandemic, “it’s more important than ever to follow outdoor etiquette, “ Watts said. “People need to be aware of their surroundings and be considerate of other park users.”
“Having more people going outside is a great thing, both for the people involved and for the community,” said Maura Kistler, co-owner of Water Stone Outdoors, a Fayetteville climbing and outdoor gear shop. “But, generally speaking, with increased visitation comes increased, accidents, rescues,” and situations like last weekend’s rock-throwing incident.
Since many of those flocking to the Gorge this year are inexperienced in the outdoor recreation activities available in the area, “we need to match the growth in visitation with an educational component to get people up to speed and keep everyone safe,” Kistler said.
Although close encounters between climbers and rocks thrown from park trails have occurred sporadically over the years, Kistler said, last weekend’s incident was “deeply disturbing. I really appreciate the park putting the public service announcement out.”
In addition to endangering other park users, throwing rocks or boulders off cliffs in the new national park is against the law, with possible fines varying based on intent and severity. Removing rocks from their natural setting violates National Park Service natural resource regulations and can lead to erosion issues.
Endless Wall Trail is one of the park’s most popular hiking venues. The trail passes through a forest segment, crosses Fern Creek, reaches the rim of the New River Gorge at Diamond Point, then winds its way along the top of a section of the Endless Wall, an unbroken, three-mile-long expanse of cliff.
In 2015, USA Today readers voted it the nation’s best trail on land managed by the National Park Service.