Low-frequency, high-risk: Preventing falls on La Crosse’s bluff trails

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — A La Crosse man remains hospitalized after falling 40 feet on Friday near Grandad Bluff.

La Crosse Fire Department officials call falls like that low-frequency and high-risk. A rescue requires special training, but many falls can be preventable.

La Crosse is home to more than 50 miles of natural-surface trails. Most of them are on the bluffs, but with hiking comes risks.

“Anywhere between six to 10 times a year we might end up on the bluff. Some are more serious than others,” said Lt. Brandon Gritt of the fire department.

That’s how many times the fire department gets called to assist with a bluff fall every year.

“It’s a low-frequency, high-risk thing,” Gritt said.

A rescue involving a fall requires manpower and preparation.

“That gives us I believe six apparatus and roughly 15 personnel,” Gritt said. “There is a lot of training that goes into it, it’s a specialized thing.”

It also requires time.

“So then you locate them, you treat them, you package them like I said and you bring them off the bluff,” Gritt said.

After the bluff fall Friday, crews spent two hours at the scene. But many of these falls are avoidable.

“Oftentimes, it’s when people are in areas where they shouldn’t be,” Gritt said.

Hiking on city-maintained trails is safe, said Leah Miller, outdoor recreation coordinator for the La Crosse Parks and Recreation Department.

“If you’re on a designated trail, these trails are built to keep you safe and take you to safe locations,” Miller said.

To ensure your safety, Miller recommends hiking with a buddy.

“Proper footwear or walking sticks if you’re choosing to pursue a more difficult trail,” Miller said.

She also recommends keeping track of trail markers and watching the sky.

“If you’re not sure if it’s a trail or not, if there’s not a sign there, it’s probably not a trail,” Miller said. “Make sure that you’re traveling outdoors during the daylight hours — so pay attention to when it’s rising or when it’s setting.”

If you do run into trouble, you can always call for help.

Miller also recommends downloading the Avenza app. It is GPS-connected and can help you find your way on the trails.

If you would like to help the family of the man who fell off the bluff, there is a GoFundMe.

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