Friday, September 23, 2011

More On Deaths In National Parks

Once again deaths in National Parks are in the news.  See this article:

Recent deaths in Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks seem to be the focus of media coverage.  The fact is that an average of 155 deaths per year are the result of accidents in National Parks. 

In many cases fatalities and serious injuries to park visitors are the result of taking unnecessary risks.  Is this caused by a feeling of invincibility or a false sense of security generated by what many in the media are deeming a “nanny state?”  During my career as a National Park Ranger I saw many instances where people took risks well beyond their capabilities because they knew someone would rescue them.  Technology such as cell phones providing instant communications and GPS units showing you where you are can contribute to an over confidence in one’s ability to deal with the unknown
This number of accidental deaths does not include fatalities as the result of medical conditions such as heart attacks, homicides, and suicides.  It was just last year that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a report on the significant number of suicides in National Parks.  According to the report between the years of 2006 and 2009 there were 286 reported suicide attempts resulting in 194 fatalities.

In a recent conversation I learned that in the Ridge District of the Blue Ridge Parkway (a 106 mile section of the Park) there have been seven fatalities already this year.  The causes of these deaths are from a fall, motor vehicle accidents, and suicides.

I have written in this blog on the topic of suicides and deaths in our parks before.  To access these posts you can use the search window to the right.

The fact is that people do die in National Parks just as they do anywhere else.  The American people have a rightful sense of ownership of our Parks that is often times amplified by the media.  When fatalities occur in these special places for many, although they may live a thousand miles away, it feels like it occurred in their own backyard.
For National Park Rangers and their fellow staff members dealing with the death in our National Parks and the potential emotional turmoil that can linger for years is another challenge faced all too often.

For more information you can go to the following links:

I also have written on this topic more extensively in my book A Park Ranger’s Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.  You can find a copy on Amazon and other on line sources.

1 comment:

  1. This was a tough summer for those of us at Yellowstone. After 25 years with no bear related fatalities, two this summer has been a tough blow. Any one of us could have spoken with those folks, offered a bit of advice, or shared a story. We are all wondering if we did enough... said enough... took enough time with each visitor.... what could we have said... done... tried differently. Still in all, I still tell visitors that the most dangerous animal in the park is someone driving a motor vehicle.