« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

Peril in the parks

 

Early August: A woman and her young son are stranded for five days in a remote corner of Death Valley National Park in 117 degree-average heat; the boy doesn’t survive. Late August: Two climbers fall in Grand Teton; one is airlifted from a ledge by helicopter.

The National Park Service is involved in thousands of search and rescue operations each year, at a cost of millions of dollars. Between 2004 and 2008, parks in the agency’s three Western regions accounted for about 57 percent of the agency’s search and rescues on average, and about 86 percent of its overall search and rescue costs, thanks to their popularity and challenging environments.

Although folks often get into trouble because they aren’t adequately prepared, the Park Service generally doesn’t charge for rescues. Doing so would introduce complex liability issues and could discourage people from seeking help when they most need it.

-- Sarah Gilman

SOURCES: National Park Service Search and Rescue Reports , 2004-2008; Travis Heggie, University of North Dakota adjunct professor and Director of the Great Plains Injury Prevention Research Initiative; Heggie, Travis W., PhD, Michael E. Amundson, BS. “Dead Men Walking: Search and Rescue in U.S. National Parks.” Wilderness & Environmental Medicine Volume 20, Issue 3, pg. 244-249. Illustration: Sarah Gilman