Hikers Describe Backbone Trail as "Steep" and "Narrow"
By Jillian Petrus, Reporter
DELAWARE COUNTY, Iowa - A fatal fall this weekend killed a beloved University of Northern Iowa administrator.
Drake Martin, UNI's Assistant Director, worked with the university for three decades.
In a statement, UNI Spokesman Jim O'Connor said Martin was a compassionate person, a thoughtful student affairs administrator and a committed leader. "Along the way he was a great friend, mentor and colleague to many, many staff, faculty and community members. He will be missed," he said.
The accident happened Saturday afternoon along Backbone Trail, also known as Devil's Backbone. It's the highest point in northeast Iowa and a popular hiking area near the east entrance of Iowa's oldest state park.
One hiker recalls nearly falling at the park sixty years ago. Gary Childs, originally of New Hampton now living in Texas, said his experience at the park scared him away from Backbone trail until recently.
"We used to come here about every fall,” Child’s said. “I was about fifteen-years-old and not too bright…I come running down the trail going too fast I couldn't stop.” Childs said he was about to go over the edge of a cliff when a friend grabbed his arm and saved him.
Jeff Seago and his wife, both from Elkader, have hiked Backbone Trail at least three times a year.
"There's a lot of steps narrow spots fissures and cracks,” Seago said. “You can see some overlooks probably a dozen out there where you can see straight 100 feet down.”
Seago does not think the mail trail is too dangerous, but often times people are drawn out to the rocky edges and look-outs for a better view.
"The side shoots, if you go on some of those, there'll be a place two to three feet wide. You got to jump, and it's probably about 50 feet down," he said.
In, 1996 a toddler and a 15-year-old girl fell over a ridge known as 'the backbone’. Both were hospitalized with serious injuries.
In 1990, a 38-year-old man died while rock climbing down one of the park's 50-foot cliffs. The accidents led many to question the lack of guard rails or warning signs along the trails. At the time, Park Rangers said they had no plans to add any additional safety measures.
We still don't know if Martin was alone when he fell or where specifically he fell from the trail. The Delaware County Sheriff's Department said they are not releasing any new information Sunday. The Department of Natural Resources directed us to the Sheriff's Department or park rangers who were not available for comment this weekend.
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