A recent article in the Salem Statesman-Journal highlighted a popular hiking area near the town of Pacific City that has become increasingly dangerous. The newspaper solicited feedback from readers about the best way to make the area around Cape Kiwanda safer.
According to the newspaper, “seven people have died in the popular Oregon coast destination… since 2009, including five during the past eight months. The tragedies have been almost entirely experienced by teenagers, with the average age of victims at 19 years. Most of the time the victims hiked up a sand dune, disregarded fencing and signs, climbed onto a hazardous sandstone bluff and fell into the ocean.”
The article notes that state and county officials are searching for new ways to deal with the problem of drowning in the area. The paper published photos of the existing signs at the Cape, which read simply “Danger: Do not go beyond this point,” and contrasted them with a sign on a different part of the trail which takes a much more forceful approach. That posting reads: “Danger!! Several fatalities have occurred in and around these waters. STAY ON THE TRAIL”
Some readers suggested a memorial board listing the names and dates of death of people killed in the area as a way of driving home the message. These are all worthy ideas and merit serious consideration. Children and young people are being injured – the fact that the number in this one spot has risen so dramatically in the space of just a few months is a particular cause for concern.
As an Oregon attorney with a special interest in cases involving injuries to children I must, however, ask whether signage alone is sufficient considering the scope of this problem. Based on the Statesman-Journal’s reporting it seems that a strong case can be made for emergency phones, increased patrols by rangers or other officials and barriers that would offer greater safety and do much to prevent drowning without marring the natural beauty of the location. This balance between preserving nature and protecting the public is one that has been successfully struck at numerous national and state parks around the country. Surely it will not take another tragedy at Cape Kiwanda to get Oregon officials to act. With spring almost here the issue is one that needs to be addressed urgently.
Salem Statesman-Journal: Readers: Deterring Cape Kiwanda deaths is key