Editorial: Freak accident teaches us a valuable lesson

A man scales a bluff 50 yards to the east of where, the night before, a Lake Grove teen was killed in a tragic fall. (Credit: Grant Parpan)
A man scales a bluff 50 yards to the east of where, the night before, a Lake Grove teen was killed in a tragic fall. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Just about anyone who grew up on the East End can recall a time they scaled a bluff.

Whether horsing around with friends, passing the time during a day at the beach or seeking a shortcut, locals rarely think about potential consequences before hiking to the top of a cliff overlooking Long Island Sound. 

The tragic freak accident that occurred Sunday on the bluffs above the private beach at the end of Hulse Landing Road in Wading River has given us all the wake-up call we needed.

While the details of exactly why 18-year-old Matthew Grimaldi climbed the bluff with friends during a party this holiday weekend were not made public, anyone who’s ever done this understands how quickly an impromptu bluff run can materialize. The north shore of Long Island is dotted with attractive cliffs that are bound to catch the eye of anyone who likes a challenging climb. Shoreline erosion has only made these potential climbing surfaces more prevalent.

Have we done enough to convey to the public that these bluffs are dangerous? Only feet to the west of where Matthew fell to his death this past weekend were snow fencing and signs warning of the dangers the cliffs present. But the fencing ends after a little more than 100 yards, and the lack of any additional signs might imply that the bluffs in this area are safe to scale.

The morning after the fatal fall, a man could be seen climbing just east of where Matthew fell, presumably making his way back to his campsite at the neighboring Wildwood State Park — where there is no clear signage at the beach urging people to stay off the bluffs.

So much of the conversation about erosion centers on securing waterfront residential properties and keeping our beaches healthy, important issues in their own right. But it would be a simple and valuable step to gather all the stakeholders — private property owners, beach associations, park officials and community leaders — to brainstorm ways we can better publicize the dangers of climbing these bluffs. So many of us will freely admit we’ve innocently climbed a bluff just like the one Matthew Grimaldi scaled Sunday.

Now, we must all spread the word of this weekend’s tragedy so our friends and neighbors don’t repeat those mistakes.