Dangerous parks

  National park rangers say inadequate funding is adding new risks to their jobs. Crime in parks is on the rise, and most parks don't have the money to beef up their law enforcement. To publicize the problem, the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police has listed the top 10 most dangerous national parks.

Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, located along the Mexican border 120 miles west of Tucson, ranks first. Other dangerous Western parks include Saguaro on the outskirts of Tucson, Big Bend, Yosemite, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon.

Organ Pipe Superintendent Bill Wellman says he doesn't think his park deserves to be number one, but acknowledges that it has a place in the top 10. Up to 1,000 illegal immigrants pass through the park every day, he says, and 60,000 to 80,000 pounds of marijuana were seized within its boundaries last year. Between five and eight rangers patrol the 330,000-acre park, says Wellman: "It's about half of what we need to handle the situation."

The ranger group, which represents a majority of the 1,600 commissioned Park Service rangers, surveyed its members and then offered the results. Randall Kendrick, the group's executive director, says Organ Pipe's predicament isn't unusual. Rangers routinely struggle with radio "dead zones," drive inferior patrol cars and fire engines, and police vast areas without backup officers.

Contact the Fraternal Order of Police, U.S. Park Rangers Lodge at 800/407-8295 or www.rangerfop.com.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Mitch Tobin

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