New Gate Would Block Perilous Gorge, but Many Don't Want It

2 Cornell students died after crossing through Ezra's Tunnel, but locals say Ithaca gorge is iconic
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2017 9:06 AM CST
Iconic, Deadly Gorge Near Cornell Inspires a Fierce Debate
A nearby waterfall at Buttermilk Falls State Park in Ithaca, NY.   (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Cornell University students have long wandered through a nearly 200-year-old tunnel that one nature official describes as "one of the most dangerous places in the entire Finger Lakes region," mainly to get to a popular (but illegal) swimming hole. Now, after two student drownings in seven years, the fight is on to close off the entrance to Ezra's Tunnel with a steel gate, preventing curiosity seekers from entering the dangerous Fall Creek Gorge and the swimming hangout at the bottom of Ithaca's Forest Falls, the New York Times reports. The City Council is set to vote Wednesday on the gate, and it's a proposal backed by local police and fire officials, who've made at least five rescues from the gorge over the past couple of summers. The Cornell Daily Sun says a deal has been struck that would have Cornell pay for the gate, with the City of Ithaca retaining "sole ownership" of it.

Not only are officials worried about drownings, they fear chunks of ceiling may fall as people pass through. Still, per the Daily Sun, hundreds have signed a petition against the gate, with many saying the city's gorges are what makes Ithaca Ithaca, and that if the tunnel entrance is blocked, students will find more dangerous ways into the gorge. Their suggestion: Implement warning signage, a guide to the area, and seasonal restrictions based on water levels. But the mom of a 17-year-old who died there this summer says she wants to ensure no other family suffers tragedy. Even Ithaca's mayor, who says he's conflicted on the gate, concedes the perils. "Unfettered access to the natural world is one of the perks of living in Ithaca," says Svante Myrick. "But this is an attractive nuisance—a danger that is too cleverly disguised." (A college student's spelunking trip almost ended in disaster.)

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