Between 2001 and 2005, there were more than 1,100 search and rescue operations at National Park units in the state, according to recently released data. Of those, 60 percent involved men, and most ran into problems while hiking or boating.
Heat, fatigue, a lack of preparedness, insufficient equipment, and darkness led the list of sources of trouble. The most common factor however, was “poor judgment” according to a study by Travis Heggie, an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota.
According to Heggie’s study, there were more than 4,700 medical calls in Utah‘s National Parks, including 79 fatalities during the study period. The National Park Service could not verify the numbers, but said they were similar to NPS records.
The unit with the highest number of incidents was Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, accounting for nearly half of the search and rescue operations during the study period. On average, there were about 112 search and rescue operations annually, mostly for boaters going overboard.
Zion National Park had the highest number of first aid calls, and the largest number of hikers that needed help. Bonnie Schwartz, Zion’s Chief Ranger, says Zion has seen a shift in emergency calls from stranded climbers to more from those stuck in lower-lying areas. Schwartz attributes this change to the rise in popularity in canyon exploration and canyoneering.
Because canyoneering requires a permit, Schwartz said rangers use that as an opportunity to educate visitors about safety and see that they have the proper equipment.
Heggie states that most people underestimate the cost of search and rescue operations. On average, a Utah parks recue costs around $1,200. Individual parks pay for those less than $500, with more expensive operations paid for out of regional and national funds.
Generally speaking, however, the NPS is not reimbursed for the expenses incurred in search and rescue operations. If the park system believes “gross negligence” played a role in the need for a rescue, officials may seek payment in court.
Utah’s five national parks and five national monuments draw about 8 million visits per year.