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DEATHS SPUR CLOSURE OF CAMPGROUND

SHARE DEATHS SPUR CLOSURE OF CAMPGROUND

Twice shy, officials for the Uinta National Forest Service are closing the Hanging Rock Campground immediately because of two freak accidents in almost the same spot that killed a Utah teenager and a California woman.

After that, it will probably be permanently shut down as a picnicking area for the public."We've had two fatalities there, just about exactly a year apart, incredibly a foot and a half apart," said Loyal Clark, park service spokeswoman. "We just don't want to wait around for another." The Hanging Rock Campground has been functioning as a public recreation area for 50 years and until this past weekend and July 1994, there had been no serious problems.

However, a year ago, Elizabeth E. Holton was sitting on a rock in the stream reading when a boulder was displaced by hikers on the hillside above her. The falling rock killed her.

On Saturday, a Roy teenager, Rodrigo Figueroa, was struck by a rock dislodged by wind while he was playing in the water. He was injured and died at American Fork Hospital shortly thereafter.

Based on concerns about the first accident, Forest Service officials put up a pine log barrier along the southernmost edge of the picnic area, posting it as a "falling rock" zone. Figueroa was beyond the barrier.

"People go right around the barrier, basically ignoring it," said Clark. "What else can you do?" Clark said people are so accustomed to using the site - which is so popular it often exceeds capacity - they use it even when it's been closed for maintenance and cleaning.

"People will park on the road when we've closed off the gate and then we have a traffic hazard with people getting sideswiped or hit crossing the road."

Clark said the rangers working at the Timpanogos Cave Visitors Center west of the campground have received increased reports of falling rocks and hazards at Hanging Rock this year.

"That whole area is unstable. Granite is not the best rock for staying together," said Clark. "And when we have a hot day and a cold night, we have fractures created." The canyon is, after all, nature in process, she said.

However, to protect the public as much as possible, Clark said the decision has been made - at least temporarily - to close the campground immediately and then to seek permanent closure.