Another fall at Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area this weekend is just a reminder that rules without enforcement are no rules at all. Of course, a bit more attention to detail with sign placement and social trail closures would help as well.
Luckily the fall reported this weekend turned out better than they often do. In this case, I’m told, the injured party was able to walk out to the parking lot to meet EMS. It certainly put an exclamation point on the photos I had posted on our social media channels just the day before of hikers seemingly blind to the closed area signs, and teens on the cliffs encouraging their nervous friends to “Jump, Jump, Jump!”
Now’s not the time to relitigate the rules or talk about whether people should be allowed to jump or not. That time has passed and there are new rules set in place within the natural area. Certain areas have been closed and while being in the water is still OK, climbing the cliffs is not and subject to a fine.
The bigger issue now is simply enforcement. Everyone I’ve talked to who care about Pewits’ agree that either park rangers, wardens or even friends group volunteers should be called upon to be at least a weekend presence at Pewit’s Nest (And Parfrey’s Glen for that matter.) We do not want them there to fine visitors, but to re-educate the public in trail etiquette and the purpose of natural areas. Then, yes if there is no other option, fine the ones who are totally abusing the property.
But the managers can do more as well. We really need to talk about sign placement! Check out the image above. This is an invitation to ignore the signs. A lot of folks do. The problem is a lack of any sort of physical barrier. Until a split rail fence or other attractive solution can be found, this trail should be blocked off by brush thick enough to make it a real pain to cross in your swimsuit. This is how most state and national parks handle social trails and with regular attention it works. Sure, not everyone respects it and the most determined will find a way around, but the majority will respect the barrier.
In addition to the lack of barriers, I found that some closed areas had no signage at major access points. A great example is at the front of the gorge. When walking into Pewit’s Nest you’ll see all of the closed area signs warning you to stay off the hill at the front. However, if you walk down to the water first, then leave the water to climb the hills, there are no warnings. (Below)
If I climbed up from the main pool, I could easily claim that I didn’t see a sign. By the way, look at how damaged this hill has become!!
The point is not to place signs every 3 feet (which has been done in some spots), but to look at how the property is used and place signs and natural barriers in appropriate locations until more permanent solutions can be installed. I’m sure volunteers could be found to do this and we’d be happy to send out the call. Thing is, we can’t simply pound some signs in the ground and walk away. One thing is sure, at this point, a lot of people are just ignoring the signs. If you want to believe it’s only a rare few, whatever you do, don’t look up Pewit’s Nest on Snapchat!
***Obligatory Disclaimer: This website is NOT associated with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The views expressed in this blog are mine and do not represent the views of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.