Palouse Falls Closure Affects OP Trips


Photo contributed by Marra Clay.

Mikaela Slade

Editor’s note: The Whitman Outdoor Program does not allow cliff jumping on its trips or endorse cliff-jumping at Palouse Falls.

Parts of Palouse Falls State Park, a common Outdoor Program (OP) trip destination for Whitman students, were recently shut down in what could be a permanent arrangement due to the amount of emergency calls received over the years and the vandalism that has been ongoing there. Student OP trip leaders are disappointed about the loss of an excellent trip location, but are excited about new opportunities to be offered in place of the Palouse Falls trip.

“I think after the upperclassmen who are familiar with the area leave in the next few years, it will likely be hardly missed by the student body.  It is a fun and unique trip, so those of us at the OP will certainly miss it,” said Aleyna Porreca, the OP trips coordinator.

On Saturday, Oct. 24, a group of Whitman students on the Palouse Falls OP trip led by sophomore Shane Randle had just gotten to the falls when they saw a large amount of fencing and tape. According to Randle, the only thing that was open to the public was the viewing platform. Both of the trails – one that leads to the top of the falls and the other that leads to the bottom – were closed.

“There [was] cliff jumping there, there [was] hiking and by having OP trips there it makes it a lot more accessible to students,” said Randle. “And I think that because it’s now closed, we can’t have OP trips there because literally all you would do is drive there and look at the falls and then drive home and that doesn’t really work with the OP trip model. So I think that it’s going to make it so that less people know about it, or are able to see it.”

Randle has been working for the OP since she began attending Whitman, and she had only been able to led one trip to the falls. She thought that this trip was a good trip for students because it was close and had a beautiful waterfall to visit.

“I think Palouse Falls is a really special place to be able to visit and to be able to explore as something that’s very close to campus,” said Randle. “It’s the highest waterfall to ever be kayaked, which is really cool – it’s just a great area to explore, fun to see.”

Photo contributed by Marra Clay.
Photo contributed by Marra Clay.

Fortunately, there was a Park Ranger present that Randle was able to speak with about the situation. Randle said that one of the main reasons that the falls were closing, according to the Ranger, was because they had had about 19 emergency calls, eight people had been air lifted out, and one of the rescues required them to cut through a fence and repel down to that person.

“I’m really bummed out that I will never get to hike there, unless it opens again. You can go and look at the falls, which is really impressive. The viewpoint where you do go, where the parking lot and the overview point is, is very cool.” said Galen Bishop, an OP trip leader, “But it looks like it would be so much fun to hike up to the top of the falls and play around there, and swim in the pools.”

The Park Ranger also talked about the accumulative cost of replacing an irrigation pipe that was constantly being vandalized. It had been vandalized three times this year and they had to replace it twice over the course of three or fours years. So the overall reason the falls were shut down was due to the safety of the people who visited and the cost of keeping it open because of vandalism.  

The OP has taken the Palouse Falls trip off their list of trips they will be taking next semester because it looks as though the falls won’t be opening back up any time soon. They will instead be offering day hikes on the Indian Ridge, Umatilla Rim Trail and in Harris Park.

“We are looking at options of locations that could offer the same sort of experience.  Harris Park is a pretty mellow out-and-back hike along the South Fork of the Umatilla, while Palouse Falls has a few trails that go to different areas of the park,” said Porreca. “We would like to find another location with adventuresome options and beautiful views if possible.