What’s Next? Fences around our Mountains?

I was reading the Watauga Weekender this past weekend and right on the front page was a news story by Melanie Davis of Mountain Times.  She is covering a trial that is now under way that was filed by a guy by the name of Robert Cobb against the Town of Blowing Rock.  Cobb’s 12 year old daughter was hiking the trails (with an 11 year old friend) around Glen Burney Falls in August of 2004 when she slipped on some rocks and fell 30 feet to the rocks at the bottom of the falls.  It was a miracle that she did not die, however she DID suffer severe back, hip and leg injuries in the accident.  Robert Cobb is now seeking reimbursement and future coverage of medical expenses, which total hundreds of thousands of dollars – although according to the news report no specific dollar amount has been released.

The basis for the legal argument, according to Cobb himself, is that "there was a lack of warning signage and proper safety barriers".


Look – as the father of four daughters (two of which are close to this young lady’s age) I feel horrible for the man.  Perhaps he is having a tough time financially and maybe looking for any help he can get – but attempting to hold the Town of Blowing Rock responsible for his daughter’s accident is just not the way to go.  I am certain he could appeal to his hometown’s local churches and they’d be happy to do some fundraisers and benefits that could help.  Most doctors and hospitals also will work with him to make payments as they have it, etc…but trying to blame the town is just not logical thinking.

Another paragraph of the newspaper story that caught my attention was the one that reads, "One of the reasons people move to Blowing Rock is the safety of allowing children to go to the parks and recreation facilities after school or during the summer," he said, referring to his daughter being on the trail without an adult.

I repeat – WHAT????!!!!!

First, I don’t have a desire to make this a parental neglect story, but I would not allow my 14 year old to traverse waterfalls of the area on her own.  My reasons are too numerous to mention here.  However Mr. Cobb’s statement about people moving to Blowing Rock because it is a safe area to raise kids is the one that I want to address.  The mountains certainly offer a MUCH safer and quality lifestyle to raise kids.  However as with any region of the country, there ARE inherrant dangers that apply to each.  While living and residing in Blowing Rock offers a safe environment, there ARE areas that offer high elevations, steep climbs and slippery rocks, etc.  I Googled "Glen Burney Falls" and two of the first three web pages that I found addressed the obvious.  Check these quotes out:

"There are lots of rocks and roots to traverse. Our June hike was just after an overnight rain and all surfaces including the dirt trail floor were slippery so the total time round trip was almost 3 hours." – reference URL

"The trail is moderate with some steep parts so it’s not suitable for small children. …The trail begins at the info sign and immediately goes down and crosses New Years Creek. Continue past the back of some houses and switchback down. The trail is easy to follow and crosses the creek once again about 1/2 mile down. There’s a cascade before the main waterfall, but I didn’t get a shot on either trip. Continue down the trail to a side path to the right that leads to this viewing deck at the top of the falls. There’s not much to see here. Do not go down to the top of the falls from here! Several people have died here by slipping and sliding off of the waterfall." – reference URL

For Mr. Cobb to make some inferance with his remarks that Blowing Rock is to blame for his daughter’s accident is ludicrous.  It would be something akin to a man suing the City of Myrtle Beach for a shark attacking his daughter in the ocean!  My Lord, we KNOW there are sharks in the water and if we choose to go swimming with sharks – we KNOW that there’s a chance we may get bitten!  Based on what Mr. Cobb is saying, I suppose he feels that the City of Myrtle Beach should create swimming areas to keep our kids from "mixing it up with sharks".  I am envisioning huge fences that drop down into the ocean’s depths to segregate the maneaters from us.  Of course, hurricanes will rip those to shreds every few years, therefore making it such that the townships will have to sale tickets for $50 each for the right to swim.

Make no mistake about it, when I read the story a few years back about this young lady’s accident, it really made me hurt for the parents.  However, now four years later I am reading that he is taking the Town of Blowing Rock to court and I can only hope and pray that the judge hearing this case will usher these attorneys right out of the courthouse faster than a shark attacks chum (okay I know that was uncalled for), because accidents happen and the only way that Blowing Rock could have prevented this from happening has NOTHING to do with signage or barriers.  The only way to prevent a fall from the top of a waterfall would be to erect a fence up top and post a guard there to prevent people from trespassing it regardless. If we allow these kinds of court cases to find any measure of success then the rest of us are going to find that we’ll have fewer and fewer of our old favorite hikes and trails available to us.

I wish Mr. Cobb’s daughter a full recovery and hope that she will one day want to revisit the beautiful trails around Blowing Rock.  I also hope and pray that she is not required to pay $50 and sign a release to do so.

Editor’s final comment: I had a good friend email me about this situation and she alluded to the fact that too many people initiate these kinds of cases nowadays KNOWING they would probably lose but hoping for some kind of out of court settlement.  I wouldn’t think that is the case in this situation, however the results would be the same.  I would say that if Mr. Cobb needs help for medical expenses, that is unfortunate but perhaps family, friends, community and church would be a better alternative than trying to ransom money from the Town of Blowing Rock.  Just my two cents….

Here are some reader’s feedback emails (more posted when I can):

Ben W. from Blowing Rock, NC wrote: I know of several people who have been injured on the trails around the area and also some who have fallen to their death on waterfalls in the region.  The Glen Burney Falls area is popular and I have seen dozens of kids on that waterfall and the trails to it in flip-flops and sandals rather than good hiking shoes and regardless there are times that the ground and rocks are slippery. Perhaps Mr. Cobb should consider suing mother nature as well.

Tammi D. of Winston-Salem wrote: Let me see if I have this straight; the father allows his ELEVEN year old daughter to roam the forest without adult supervision and HE is suing the town? I would think some government agency should consider that child neglect.

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