Updated 4:07 p.m. MDT 6/26/19
St. George, UT — Tuesday evening, two brothers — a 28-year-old from North Dakota and 20-year-old from Nevada — were visiting the upper waterfalls at Gunlock State Park when they slipped and fell nearly twelve feet into the water below.
Lt. Regan Wilson, who oversees the southwest region of Utah State Parks, said both brothers were transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center. As of Wednesday, the park has reported that five visitors have been injured and another person died in water-related incidents this year.
St. George, UT — The waterfalls at Gunlock State Park are a sight to behold: torrents of white water cascading hundreds of feet over red rock. They’re rare too — with 2019 marking the first time in eight years there has been enough water for the falls to flow.
But for park manager Jon Allred, the phenomenon is a mixed blessing. “The waterfalls are an exciting thing that brings people to the park,” he said. “But I would be lying if I didn’t say there’s a lot of sleepless nights.”
These days, Allred and his team are on a high alert. Since late May, three park visitors have been treated for injuries and another person has died in water-related accidents at the falls.
While this isn’t the first time the park has seen a fatality or a serious injury, it is unusual to have so many incidents over such a short period of time, said Regan Wilson, the lieutenant for the southwest region of Utah State Parks.
“This year, the word has spread quite a bit over social media,” he said. “There’s just more visitors out there and so I believe that probably has something to do with it.”
Wilson added that population growth in nearby St. George and an exceptionally long season for the falls due to this winter’s record-breaking snowpack are other likely reasons for the increased visitation to the site.
Utah State Parks has responded to the incidents by installing new caution signs at all legal entrances and increasing officer presence at the falls, Wilson said. Additionally, they are urging all visitors to use proper precautions like sticking with friends and family, inspecting any body of water for submerged hazards before jumping and being mindful of the slick rock and swift water.
“I think if they take all those steps, there could be less injuries while people are visiting and recreating in Utah State Parks,” he said.
The falls are already diminishing and are expected to disappear completely by late July.
David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George.