Press release from the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority:
Mission Health is teaming up with the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority (TCTDA) to help promote waterfall safety heading into the busy summer months.
“We’re delighted to be joining the effort to raise awareness about the ways visitors can safely enjoy Western North Carolina’s beautiful waterfalls,” said Jackie Gosnell, Trauma Program Manager at Mission Health.
Mission Health will be distributing Waterfall Safety Cards at its various health fairs throughout Western North Carolina and will feature a blog written by Dr. Jonas Karlsson, a trauma physician at Mission Health.
“We’re grateful to Mission Health for joining our effort,” said Clark Lovelace, executive director of the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority. “The success of our campaign is built on getting the word out in as many ways as possible. And Mission Health, which is Western North Carolina’s largest health care provider, represents another great conduit to reach residents and visitors alike.”
In 2016, six people were killed in waterfall accidents in Transylvania County. That tragic toll was the impetus for the creation of the waterfall safety campaign by the TCTDA in 2017 with support from local leadership at Pisgah National Forest, DuPont State Recreational Forest, Gorges State Park and Transylvania County EMS.
Following a waterfall safety campaign launch in June of 2017 that garnered widespread media coverage, the TCTDA distributed waterfall safety cards at several visitor centers throughout the area and created new waterfall safety signage at Sliding Rock.
Additionally, Pisgah National Forest, DuPont State Recreational Forest and Gorges State Park installed new warning signs in key areas.
“We installed new waterfall safety signs at Looking Glass Falls, Moore Cove Falls, Courthouse Falls and Rainbow Falls in Transylvania County,” said Jeff Owenby, district recreation program manager at Pisgah National Forest. “We also installed signs at Leatherwood Falls, Dry Falls, Whitewater Falls, Paradise Falls, Glen Falls and the Snowbird Wilderness Study Area in the Nantahala National Forest, as well as Catawba Falls, Upper Creek Falls and Elk Falls in other districts of the Pisgah.
“While Transylvania County has the largest concentration of waterfalls in North Carolina, there are several other neighboring counties that are experiencing the same problems,” added Dave Casey, district ranger for the Pisgah Ranger District which encompasses National Forest lands in Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe and Haywood counties. “Ideally, we’d like this initiative to become a regional effort.”
In 2017, there was only one waterfall safety fatality in Transylvania County. Mission Health also experienced a 47% drop in waterfall injuries from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2017.
“We can’t draw a direct correlation between our waterfall safety initiative and the decrease in fatalities and injuries in 2017,” continued Lovelace, “but we’re hopeful that our message is beginning to resonate. Having said that, one waterfall-related fatality is still one too many.”
Waterfall Safety: Year Two
In addition to Mission Health’s participation, this year’s effort will include the production of a brief video that will be shared on a variety of social media channels.
New waterfall safety signage will also be posted in some expected and unexpected locations. To that end, a series of waterfall safety posters are being developed for public restrooms at the Pisgah Forest Ranger Station, DuPont State Recreational Forest Visitors Center and the Gorges State Park Visitors Center. The posters will also be made available to other organizations outside of Transylvania County.
Titled, “Don’t Flush Your Life Away – Practice Waterfall Safety,” the posters are intended to inject a small amount of humor into a serious subject. The posters also include a “Waterfall Safety Check List” of seven important tips:
OBSERVE all posted signs leading to waterfall area.
STAY on marked trails and observation areas.
DO NOT jump off waterfalls or dive into pools.
DO NOT climb on rocks above waist height.
DO NOT swim or wade upstream near a waterfall.
WATCH for slick rocks around waterfalls.
WATCH your children at all times.
“The idea is to do something memorable that will generate conversation and inspire folks to share the message,” said Lovelace.
Record park and forest visitation in recent years has further reinforced the need to spread the word and point out the potential of injury and even death.
“We don’t want to scare people but we do want to do our best to help prepare visitors so they can enjoy a forest experience safely and responsibly,” said Bruce MacDonald, a ranger at DuPont State Recreational Forest. “Unlike an amusement park, our forests are not engineered for safety. That’s the mindset that we’re trying hard to impart to visitors.”
Waterfall Injuries: By The Numbers
The awareness efforts by TCTDA, Pisgah National Forest, DuPont State Forest and Gorges State Park are aimed at both visitors and residents – with good reason.
“Last year, just 26% of the injuries we treated at Mission were from out-of-state visitors,” said Gosnell. “And of the 74% in state injuries, only 24% were outside of WNC.”
Mission statistics also provide a clear picture of the typical waterfall injury. Last year, 66% of the injured were 25 years of age or younger and 34% were between the ages of 26 and 65. The average age was 27 and the median age 20.
Of those injured who came to the emergency department at Mission Health, 74% were admitted to the hospital with an average stay of four days.
“It’s clear from our experience that waterfall injuries are often serious and, even after a hospital stay, some require rehabilitation or skilled nursing facilities,” said Gosnell. “Like all of the other partners in this initiative, we believe we can reduce injuries and fatalities significantly by helping to raise awareness of everyone who enjoys our area’s incredible natural assets.”
For more information about the initiative, contact Jackie Gosnell, trauma program manager at Mission Health, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-213-5691, or Clark Lovelace, Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority executive director, at email@example.com or 828-883-3700.