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In nature, small risks can spell big trouble

   The Niagara Gorge, Zoar Valley and Letchworth State Park aren't Disney World.

   The thousands who visit these spots every year are not in a controlled environment. They're in natural settings that demand respect and common sense.

   A simple slip-up can spell tragedy.

   Police and firefighters have been called into the Niagara Gorge for rescues five times this month after hikers wandered off marked trails.

   Nine young adults spent 10 hours in Zoar Valley in July before they could be rescued by helicopter after a flash flood left them stranded.

   And one hike Aug. 13 in Whirlpool State Park ended when 12-year-old Magdalena Lubowska slipped from a rock and drowned in the rapids of the lower Niagara River.

   In each of the Niagara cases, hikers wandered off the gorge trail, State Parks Police said.

   In Western New York, there are few signs that warn people of the dangers of the trails in some of our most breathtaking natural landscapes.

   State Parks Police Maj. Vincent Iacovitti called the idea of fencing off all dangers or posting numerous warning signs "an unachievable task."

   "All natural wonders have natural dangers," he said. "That's anywhere in the United States. In essence, you would be disrupting the natural beauty for those who respect the environment."

    He said he believes the signage at the falls and gorge is adequate.

   "I think if you have an obvious obstacle, such as a cliff or a swift water, I don't think those things necessary need to be signed. Most of the natural dangers there are fairly obvious," Iacovitti said.

- Denise Jewell Gee

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