Deaths Near "The Wave" Formation in Arizona Prompts New Sign, More Warnings by BLM

A new sign and more safety warnings are coming from the Bureau of Land Management following the deaths of three hikers this summer near "The Wave" formation near the Arizona-Utah border.

Following an analysis of the tragedies, the BLM says today in a news release that several steps will be taken immediately. They include:

* A new sign promoting safety that will be installed at the Wire Pass Trailhead. The trailhead is considered the "gateway" to hikes toward The Wave and Buckskin Gulch.

* More safety info about the area on BLM websites and a video.

* Translation of safety and information brochures into the major languages of foreign visitors.

More strategies could be forthcoming to prevent deaths in the Paria Canyon Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, particularly the Coyotes Buttes area near The Wave, the BLM says.

The BLM response falls short of the wishes of some outdoor enthusiasts who believe the agency should grant more permits to hikers in cooler months.

The latest death occurred on Monday, July 22, when young mother Elisabeth Bervel of Mesa succumbed to apparent heat stroke on the way to see The Wave and suffered a heart attack. Earlier in July, an elderly couple from California died of apparent heat-related causes while hiking in the same area.

More than 48,000 people applied for 7,300 available permits last year, according to a July 24 article in the Los Angeles Times.

The shortage of permits encourages inexperienced or under-prepared hikers to brave the trail all summer, some believe.

But limiting the number of people who want to visit a highly popular area also reduces damage to a fragile ecosystem. And allowing more people to visit in the winter won't necessarily discourage people from hiking in the summer.

Another option would be to allow even fewer people to hike to The Wave in the summer -- protect people from themselves, in other words.

We prefer the "Mountains Without Handrails" type of ethics of the Grand Canyon federal park, which does not stop people from hiking on hot days -- even though the policy means some hikers won't make it.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.