Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Park Rangers, Vehicles, and Deer

The above vehicle swerved to miss a deer on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Unfortuately for the owner he had three dead deer that he had ilegally shot at night in the car with him at the time. In the bottom left corner you can see one of his victims that he tried to hide. You can learn more about this incident in my book, A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.

National Parks provide excellent habitat for whitetail deer. Most parks also provide excellent habitat for motor vehicles in the form of tour roads and parkways. The ultimate result is the consistent number of deer/car motor vehicle collisions. Even park service employees are not immune to this hazard. The National Park Service being a branch of the Federal Government is considered non-insurable (is that not a scary thought). So any damage repairs to vehicles must be absorbed by operating budgets. While a manager on the Blue Ridge Parkway it only took two deer/vehicle collisions to completely clean out a district supplies and equipment budget for a year.

I worked with a ranger who was bragging one day about how proud he was that he had worked for over thirty years on the Blue Ridge Parkway and never hit a deer. It was not a week later that a deer ran out in front of him and did almost $2,000 damage to his patrol vehicle. It was a humbling experience.

Even I was not immune to deer. In 1982 I had been run off the road by a car coming from the opposite direction while responding to a two car collision that had people entrapped. The front end of my car was demolished. It took several months to get all the approvals and work done to repair the damage. I got the repaired car back on Christmas Eve.

Christmas night the fog was about the thickest I had ever seen in that area. I got a call at my home around 9pm that there was a two car collision with injuries about thirty miles north of our house. I started on my way realizing that I had just worked another collision at that same location a few days before. I was crawling through the fog with my eyes locked on the yellow center line trying to stay on the road when I caught a movement out of the right corner of my eye and a deer came out of nowhere and crashed into the newly replaced right front fender of my car knocking out the headlight. I had injured people ahead of me, so I continued on my way further blinded with only one headlight.

Six miles further up the road I caught movement in the fog to my left and another deer slammed into my left front fender and my last headlight went out. Again I felt the urgent need to get to the injured people and continued with one parking light and my light bar flashing slowly poking my way through the fog at times loosing sight of the center line.

When I finally arrived at the scene, the rescue squad had arrived and were loading two people into an ambulance. When the EMT gave me their names I was surprised to find that the young lady involved had been in the collision I worked at this site two days earlier. Her boyfriend had picked her up at the hospital to go to her parents house for a few hours Christmas night. They had been traveling north in the fog when they pulled over to the left hand road shoulder to look at where her earlier crash had occurred. While sitting in the fog on the roadshoulder with their headlights on, another car came southbound seeing their lights thinking their car was in the north bound lane. By the time the second driver realized his mistake, it was to late and he hit the young couple's car head on. Her injuries were worse from the second collision than the first.

Apparently the deer had seen enough of me that night for in the twenty seven years I worked on the Blue Ridge Parkway these were the only collisions I had with wildlife.

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