On Fridays, we often talk about getting outdoors. Last week we spoke about staying inside during hot weather to avoid heatstroke. This week we have to discuss another aspect of getting out there — danger.
It’s not always a walk in the park when people go for, well, a walk in the national parks. While we’d like to say they are places for nothing but fun and relaxation, it’s crucial to remember that they are natural places, not manicured landscapes.
If you live in a well-maintained area, you can go to your local park and be relatively sure that the sidewalks and lawns will be well-maintained and safe. You can be largely confident that your physical well-being isn’t at risk. After all, local parks are designed for community gatherings and people of all physical abilities to enjoy.
National parks are different. They are rugged landscapes that are left wild and natural. While the public is welcome to enjoy them, much of it isn’t strictly maintained. Some of it is left uncontrolled on purpose for animals. Some of it is neglected because of a small budget. It’s easy to forget that. As they are major tourist destinations, you can start to think of them as being like Walt Disney World, but the reality is they aren’t always safe. Many hiking areas are marked as difficult; those signs aren’t jokes.
Three deaths occurred in Glacier National Park in three days. One was an, as of yet, unnamed 79-year-old man from Florida who fell to his death. He was with his friends and attempting to climb a steep slope that wasn’t on a trail. His friends climbed down to him and called 911. He was declared dead at the ranger station despite getting an air rescue via a helicopter.
The park’s website said, “Many accidents occur when people fall after stepping off trails or roadsides or venturing onto very steep slopes.” And it urged people to “stay on designated trails and don’t go beyond protective fencing or guardrails.” As there are 700 miles of trails, that shouldn’t be hard to do. You might feel the urge to “get off the beaten track,” but it’s not safe.
The other two people to die were friends, both 67 years old, Brian Kennedy and Jack Beard. They were expert climbers who knew staff at the park.
They “have been summiting mountain peaks in Glacier National Park for decades,” according to the park.
“As long-time members, both men contributed greatly to the Glacier Mountaineering Society and were well-known in the Flathead Valley community,” the park service said.
They were reported missing two days after they had planned to start climbing. Their bodies were recovered by air rescue workers. They were killed “in a climbing accident.” We’ve spoken in the past about safety in numbers when hiking and about the importance of knowing your limits. These men were experienced hikers who were with a buddy. But, it’s always possible for accidents to happen. Being as prepared as possible helps. As does staying well within your comfort zone. There’s a time and place for challenging yourself. If you are with a professional trainer or physical therapist who knows your medical history, you should feel comfortable pushing your physical boundaries. If you are in the great outdoors, you should always play it safe.
We don’t mean to dissuade people from visiting the national parks. They are fantastic places, and people go to them for a reason! But we do want to urge caution and remind everyone to plan ahead. Always be aware of your surroundings in the national parks and take care of yourself and your safety.