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Devil's Lake death prompts investigation

McFarland woman fell from scenic lookout area

MCFARLAND, Wis. - A McFarland woman fell about 100 feet to her death Thursday at Devil's Lake State Park, the most recent in a series of injuries on the park's beautiful yet dangerous terrain.

The 56-year-old woman, whose name won't be released until officers contact her family, was not on a marked trail when she fell from a scenic lookout high above the lake, said Steve Schmelzer, park superintendent for the state Department of Natural Resources. Investigators were continuing to look into how the fall happened.

The death is the first since 2010, although the park sees numerous serious injuries every year, he said.

"Activities that take place off the designated use areas, people are at their own risk," Schmelzer said. "Unfortunately that's where a lot of the accidents occur, is in undesignated use areas."

Rescue crews had to rappel down to the woman before finding her dead, and crews ultimately lifted her up the bluff from above, Schmelzer said. It's not known how familiar the McFarland woman was with the area.

Hikers, such as Joel Taylor of Illinois, said their best advice was to simply stay on the trails.

"We get climbers who get out on the rocks, they scramble around and they get stuck and have to be rescued," said Taylor, who's been hiking the trails around Devil's Lake for years. "It's not very often does somebody actually fall and do what happened (Thursday)."

Devil's Lake death prompts investigation

Taylor said even staying on the trails can be dangerous because of their steep slopes and uneven surfaces, so it's best to go slowly and pay attention to the trail ahead.

"The trail is probably -- it's dangerous, it's slippery -- but it's the safest spot," he said. "When you get off the trail onto the bluffs, there's drops, we're very conscientious of staying away from the edge."

There were no deaths on the bluffs in 2011, but there have been people killed in previous years, superintendent Schmelzer said.

"We've had a number of accidents on both bluffs," he said. "There's a wide variety of different locations and reasons why."

Because of past incidents, nearby emergency responders are trained in rescue and recovery efforts along the steep bluff faces, Schmelzer said.

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