After a close call involving a youth earlier this week, Grey Sauble Conservation Authority (GSCA) has closed Eugenia Falls to the public.
“We are hoping the closure of the property will double as a message for people to say that we are happy to offer our properties for the public to visit and enjoy, but if people are not going to follow the rules we are going to have to take actions to keep people safe,” says Tim Lanthier, CAO of GSCA.
On Tuesday afternoon, Grey Highlands Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) were dispatched to Eugenia Falls after a 12-year-old boy was walking with friends off of the marked trails, lost his footing and fell down the rock face into a crevice below.
Grey Bruce OPP assisted Grey County Paramedics and members of the Grey Highlands and Blue Mountains Fire Department in rescuing the youth, after several hours of navigating the steep cliffs.
In the fall, the youth seriously injured both his legs. He was transported to the Markdale hospital before being transferred to London for further care.
Eugenia Falls is a popular spot in the Grey Highlands, located in the Village of Eugenia. It offers picturesque views of 23-hectares of Niagara Escarpment, river valley and upland forests.
The site is owned and operated by GSCA and features a 30-metre waterfall. Access to the base of the falls is strictly prohibited.
“People need to stay on the trails, and respect and observe the signage,” says Lanthier. “We have taken steps to address this, but people are choosing to ignore that, so we are going to have to ramp up our compliance efforts.”
Eugenia Falls has a track record of serious and fatal incidents, the majority of which involve visitors venturing outside of marked areas.
In 2017, 19-year-old Tanner Jacobs from Orillia died after losing his footing and falling more than 12-metres.
Lanthier says since that time, GSCA has made further attempts to create barriers to keep visitors contained to the site’s safe areas.
“There is a barrier wall that is three-to-four-feet high that keeps people away from the cliff edge on the parking lot side of the property and we extended that last year with 100-feet of chain link fence and signage,” he says.
“We consider the area past that to be out of bounds. Because a lot of people are not respecting that right now, we closed the property until we can take further steps to increase compliance,” Lanthier says, adding that at this point, there is no timeline for the facility to reopen.
He estimates the falls will be closed for at least a week and when reopened, GSCA plans to increase its compliance efforts at this site, as well as Inglis Falls, which sits just outside of Owen Sound.
“A staff person will be on-site to educate people but also to try and keep people from going into that out of bounds area,” he says. “Beyond that, we have also been in communication with the OPP and they have our approval to charge anyone that is in that area with trespassing.”
He adds that the number of visitors to GSCA does seem to be slightly inflated due to the COVID-19 situation, but says it is too early in the season to know how much of an impact that may be having.
“This is an ongoing issue all summer, every year. We actively try to engage with people but the reality is that we can’t be there all the time, and unfortunately, people will choose to ignore the rules,” Lanthier concludes.