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 Safe Backcountry Hiking: Retired National Park Rangers Offer 5 Safety Tips

TravelProfessionals Who Have Worked Most of Their Lives Outdoors Share Advice, Experiences; Case of Lost Boy Scout in Utah Illustrates Need for Hikers to Get Better Informed.

WASHINGTON, D.C Every year, hundreds of Americans get lost, injured and even die while hiking through remote sections of national parks and other wild spots in the United States. Today, the members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) are sharing their five survival tips for safer hiking. And these outdoors experts know what they are talking about: the group’s nearly 400 members – most of whom spent their entire careers working outdoors -- account for a total of more than 11,000 years worth of National Park Service (NPS) experience...

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Coalition Spokesperson Roger Rudolph, the former chief ranger of Yosemite National Park, said: “A summer or fall hiking adventure does not have to result in injury, death or a search-and-recovery mission. While the members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees are thankful that the Utah Boy Scout was found alive this month after being lost for several days, we know most incidents like this are preventable and often with just a little planning. “

Here are the five tips to assist with planning your summer or fall hiking adventures from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees:

1. Have a plan and share it. Whether hiking solo or in a group, you need to become familiar with the area you will be hiking, the hazards, and the expected weather. The process of getting ready will include obtaining maps to review the area you will hike, briefing all members of the group on route selection, having a turn-around time, and developing alternate route selections. Let someone know where you are going, when, your departure point, your planned route, and expected time of return. A tip for when you are underway: It is always a good idea to pay attention to landmarks from all angles, as these “markers” sometimes will change dramatically in appearance depending on light, elevation and your angle of observation.

2. Make sure your equipment, clothing, and food are up for the trip. Test your equipment before leaving. Having a little extra clothing, especially for inclement weather, may weigh a bit more, but it is worth it when things go sour. The same rule of “a little extra can’t hurt” applies to food and drink. Better to lug around more than to be stranded with less than you need to survive.

3. Know your limits – and those of the other individuals in your group. A military unit travels at the speed of its slowest member and that is a good way to think about how to hike. Constant communication is also key: If traveling in a group, you should use a buddy system. Checking your partner for energy levels, blisters, food consumption, and fatigue can prevent problems down the trail. Jim Brady, a coalition member and the former chief ranger of the National Park Service and Superintendent of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, said: “Almost every park ranger knows of rescues or body recoveries that resulted from poor conditioning and bad judgment. Hiking is supposed to be fun, not a life-and-death struggle.”

4. Always bring along about proper emergency equipment. When hiking by yourself, ensure that you have, at a minimum, a first aid kit. Some recommended items include band-aids, medical tape, over-the-counter pain relievers, moleskin, anti-bacterial ointment, and a compress or two, and spare headlamp batteries. If traveling in a group, have a “community” first aid kit with additional splints, pads, and braces. Tony Bonanno, a CNPSR member and the former chief ranger of the NPS Intermountain Region, said: “EMT gear is a good idea if you have someone along who knows how to use it. Mine includes extra matches, needle and thread, a flare, mirror, and whistle. Remember that splints often can be improvised using what nature or innovation provides, such as branches, pack frames, blankets, coats, sleeping bags etc.”

5. Know in advance what to do if things go bad. Park rangers typically encourage hikers in genuine distress to “hug a tree,” which means staying where you are until help comes to you. You can last a long time with the gear you have with you. Whistles, mirrors, cell phones (when they work) are priceless. A lost person who wanders around aimlessly -- especially in inclement weather -- can turn a merely bad situation into a truly tragic situation. It is better to be lost and then found (even if a little embarrassed) than to be carried out of the wilderness in a body bag. When traveling in a group, if someone sustains an injury, good judgment is required to determine if it is: safe to proceed; better to send someone (two people, if possible) back for help; or “hug a tree” and wait for help.

Want to learn more? Members of the Coalition recommend that parents and grandparents consider purchasing a copy of the video or DVD entitled “Lost … but Found Safe and Sound” from the Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR). The ANPR presentation provides priceless information that a child can use if he or she is lost in the woods. You can find ordering information at the Association’s website, http://www.anpr.org/lost.htm. (Note: CNPSR is not affiliated with ANPR and shares in no way in proceeds from the sale of Associations videos and CDs.)



The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (http://www.npsretirees.org) consists of 400 former non-political career employees of the National Park Service. Many Coalition members were senior NPS leaders who received awards for stewardship of America's top natural and cultural resources. The Coalition ranks include five former directors and deputy Directors of the National Park Service; 19 former regional directors or deputy regional directors; 38 former associate or assistant directors at the national or regional level; 53 former division chiefs at the national or regional level; and 100 former park superintendents or assistant superintendents.

On September 21, 2004, CNPSR issued "A Call to Action: Saving our National Park System," a detailed "call for action" spelling out how to overhaul the National Park over the next 12 years leading up to the NPS' 100th anniversary in 2016. Among the key steps outlined in the ambitious plan are an immediate $600 million annual infusion of additional funds to get national parks back on track and the creation of the "National Parks Restoration and Conservation Corps" (NPRCC), a large public works project patterned on the Great Depression's Civilian Conservation Corps. The NPRCC would focus on erasing the national park's chronic maintenance backlog crisis now estimated at over $6 billion.

On May 27, 2004, the Coalition released the findings of a new national survey based in part on information from 12 representative U.S. national parks. The CNPSR analysis revealed a combination of significant cuts in budget, staff and visitor services at all of the parks, a finding that casts into doubt the truthfulness of March 24, 2004 testimony by National Park Service Director Fran Mainella, who told angry members of Congress that Americans would not see major park cuts this summer and that "outstanding visitor services" would be provided. The Coalition report found the following: budgets were down at eight of the 12 parks; employee levels were reduced at all of the parks; six of the 12 parks already have or will cut visitor center hours; all six of the surveyed historic parks will allow key facilities to further deteriorate without needed maintenance; nine of the 12 parks have made cuts that will result in a reduced experience for visitors; and, most surprisingly, some parks are even cutting vital law enforcement positions needed to protect visitors and natural resources - even though NPS policy specifies "no net loss" in these positions.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees made national news on March 17, 2004, when it revealed internal NPS memos directing park superintendents to make cuts in summer 2004 park services and to then mislead the news media and public about the cuts, which were to be referred (and only if necessary) as "service level adjustments."

CONTACT: Ailis Aaron, The Hastings Group, (703) 276-3265 or [email protected]; and Rick Smith, spokesperson, Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, (505) 867-0047 or at [email protected]


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(202) 463-6670
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