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Hudson man recovers from ride down Willow River falls

A young man who took an unplanned trip down the falls at Willow River State Park was lucky to escape serious injuries, officials said.

Michael Van Ness, 21, Hudson, was at the top of the falls the afternoon of June 15 when rapid runoff water knocked him off his feet and swept him down a series of tiers to the bottom, said park ranger Darrel Richer.

Sheriff's deputies, EMS and park rangers combined to rescue Van Ness after the ordeal and he was taken to a hospital for treatment.

"He suffered relatively minor injuries considering the situation," said Richer. I think he was released the next Tuesday and suffered a broken wrist, a back injury and a gash or two."

"Unfortunately people play at the falls a lot," the ranger said. "Every year we have to haul someone away with a broken leg. He said Van Ness was apparently very familiar with the falls and was complacent. "Obviously drinking was a factor," Richer said.

The ranger said the river is given to flash floods and there was a sizeable amount of rain about two days earlier up stream and when Van Ness was playing in the water it was about at its peak power.

St. Croix County Sheriff Dennis Hillstead said two of his deputies assisted in the incident. One deputy was first on the scene after receiving a call at about 4:04 p.m. from the emergency communication center. The deputy found the Van Ness at the bottom of the falls, according to a Sheriff's report.

The deputy was told that the man was at the top of the falls, slipped and fell and rode the entire falls to the bottom where he was pulled out, complaining of injuries to his ribs, elbows and knee.

After assisting EMS in getting materials and man power down the falls, the deputies turned the case over to state park officials, the sheriff's report said.

The falls is located within a 200-foot gorge about five miles north of Hudson. A park ranger said the falls moves down in a series terraces and the total drop is about 30 feet.