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Hiker dies at Palisade Head

A woman whose body was found Thursday morning at the base of Palisade Head cliff apparently was enjoying a hike before starting a new job, the Lake County sheriff said Friday.

Margaret O'Leary
Margaret O'Leary, seen here while working on the DECC parking ramp in July 2009, died this week in an accidental fall at Palisade Head on the North Shore. (Bob King / News Tribune file photo)

A woman whose body was found Thursday morning at the base of Palisade Head cliff apparently was enjoying a hike before starting a new job, the Lake County sheriff said Friday.

The body of Margaret A. O'Leary, 48, of Hermantown was recovered about 5:50 a.m. by the Lake County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Squad. Sheriff Carey Johnson said it appeared to be an accidental death.

"She was just going to go back to work, and she was excited about that," her family told Johnson.

O'Leary, a union construction worker who was an avid hiker, had taken pre-employment training on Wednesday and apparently was enjoying a last hike before the busy construction season, Johnson said.

Her husband, Brian O'Leary, became concerned when he returned home late Wednesday afternoon and she wasn't there.

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That evening he called the Hermantown Police Department, which contacted other regional agencies.

A Lake County sheriff's deputy found O'Leary's 2005 Pontiac in the parking area just off Highway 61 at Palisade Head at 1:12 a.m. Thursday. The deputy had noticed the same vehicle parked there at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Deputies using a bloodhound, along with the Silver Bay Police Department and Lake County's volunteer rescue squad, found O'Leary, and rope rescue personnel retrieved the body.

Dan Olson, business manager for Local 1091, Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council, had known O'Leary for about four years. "She was a wonderful person, full of life," he said.

O'Leary, who belonged to the Local, had worked on the DECC parking lot expansion and later the new DECC arena. More recently, she had worked as a general laborer at New Page Duluth paper mill, where the Local has a maintenance contract.

"She was liked by everybody," Olson said. "I wish I had a dozen of her in the Local. ... She was always ready, always available."

Palisade Head, 5 miles northeast of Silver Bay, is part of Tettegouche State Park. It's a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers, as well as for tourists who enjoy its unobstructed views from 300 feet above Lake Superior.

Although it's beautiful, it's also dangerous, Johnson said.

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"Anytime you hike along a cliff edge and/or rock climb, it's dangerous, especially if you're by yourself," Johnson said. "You can't call for help because no one's going to hear you."

It's not unusual for the rescue team to be sent there, Johnson said.

"Every so often we have somebody hurt," he said. "We've had suicides there; accidents like this. It just happens."

The result of an autopsy conducted by the St. Louis County Medical Examiner is pending.

Lake County News-Chronicle Editor Mike Creger contributed to this report.

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Bygones is researched and written by David Ouse, retired reference librarian from the Duluth Public Library. He can be contacted at djouse49@gmail.com.
Bygones is researched and written by David Ouse, retired reference librarian from the Duluth Public Library. He can be contacted at djouse49@gmail.com.
Bygones is researched and written by David Ouse, retired reference librarian from the Duluth Public Library. He can be contacted at djouse49@gmail.com.