LOGAN — A Chillicothe woman has become the third victim this year to die at the Hocking Hills State Park.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources confirmed the fatality that occurred at Old Man’s Cave on Labor Day, Sept. 2, at approximately 5:30 p.m.
The victim has been identified as Victoria Schafer, 44, of Chillicothe. According to ODNR officials, Schafer was on the stairs near Old Man’s Cave when she was struck by a falling section of a tree. She was pronounced deceased at the scene by the Hocking County Coroner’s Office.
David Roorbach, ODNR Public Information Officer, told The Perry County Tribune that officers have evidence suggesting the falling section of tree was not a natural occurrence. ODNR is asking for the public’s help — anyone with information about this incident is encouraged to contact ODNR at 614-799-9538.
Roorbach said the incident remains under investigation.
“This is a tragedy and our deepest sympathies are with Mrs. Schafer’s family and friends during this difficult time, ODNR Director Mary Mertz said. “The safety of our guests is our top priority. Our investigation is ongoing so that we gain a clear understanding of what happened.”
Hocking Hills State Parks has become one of the most popular areas for hiking trails with millions of people from around the world visiting each year. While there have been numerous accidents and deaths throughout the years, this has been one of the worst with three recent deaths; and four rope rescues just this summer.
On Aug. 24, Alexander Cristin Colson, 22, of Columbus, fell to his death on the overlook trail at the Lower Falls at Old Man’s Cave. Witnesses reported that Colson was standing on the trail with his back to the cliff’s edge when he took a step backward, lost his footing, and fell approximately 75 feet.
This incident also remains under investigation.
In June, 55-year-old Dana Busson, of Doylestown, died after falling at Conkle’s Hollow. Her body was recovered in a remote location after she went missing while hiking the area. It is unknown if she ventured off the trail and lost her way, or if she experienced a medical emergency that caused her to fall.
With fall fast approaching and the leaves turning, there will be many visitors out looking at the vibrant colors of the Hocking Hills. Park rangers would like to remind those hiking should follow the instructions on the signs posted throughout the parks and stay on the trails.
Tips to follow:
• First and foremost — STAY ON THE TRAIL, but also do some research of the trail you’re thinking about hiking before you head out.
• Know what you’re getting yourself into, how long you could potentially be out.
• Bring lots of water and a snack or two.
“Bring the proper footwear — flip-flops are not the best hiking boots, although we see a lot of them, I don’t recommend them. Make sure that you bring a map — that’s another issue that we have is people getting lost and not being able to make it back before dark. Once dark hits, the risks all increase again and now we have to send people into the area at dark to look for them,” stated Hocking Hills State Parks Lt. Jeremy Davis.
Davis has worked for ODNR since 1998 and has been with Hocking Hills State Park since 2001. The incidents that happen in the State Park vary from year-to-year, but Davis said he has never seen this many incidents within such a short period of time.
From 2016 through today, there have been four fatalities at the Hocking Hills State Parks — one in 2017, fall at Hocking Hills State Forest; three in 2019 — one at Conkle’s Hollow, two at Old Man’s Cave — the most recent this past weekend.
In addition to ODNR, Hocking County EMS, and Laurelville Fire Department responded to the scene of Monday’s incident. ODNR is leading the ongoing investigation with the assistance of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal investigation and the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office.