Summer's arrival and the height of the vacation season is filling the National Park System with folks and families looking to relax, kick back, and enjoy being together in fabulous settings. Let's just not forget to be safe out there, though.
In the two weeks since Memorial Day official kicked off the days of summer we've had two young brothers drown at Buffalo National River, a young woman die in a climbing accident at New River Gorge National River, a climber lost to an avalanche at Mount Rainier National Park, and now word of a trail runner being assaulted in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Might any, or all, of these incidents been prevented? Without having been on the location of those incidents, it's hard to say. But it's reason all the more to remember to practice safety in the parks. Here are some quick tips:
* Use the buddy system. Whether you're climbing, swimming, or trail running, go with a friend and tell folks where you're going and what you're doing.
* If you're staying at a national seashore, or even one of the national lakeshores, check with the rangers about riptides before swimming.
* Be careful of swift rivers in the national parks. They're great places to cool off, but they also can be deadly, as evidenced by the drownings recently at Buffalo National River and those last summer at Sequoia National Park.
* If you're paddling in the parks, wear your Personal Flotation Device whenever you're on the water. Carry a throw-rope in your canoe or kayak and know how to use it. Pack an extra paddle, too, just in case. And be sure you're familiar with the river or lake you're paddling. Don't let rapids surprise you.
* Properly store your food, whether you're off in the backcountry or staying in a front-country campground. Black bears in Sequoia, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Great Smoky Mountains, just to name five national parks, are always on the hunt for food, and grizzlies can be troublesome, too, if they associate park visitors with a meal.
* Cliffs seem to be magnets for youngsters, and young adults, wanting to climb them, and bouldering is becoming more and more popular across the country. If you're going to be involved in these activities, use spotters. And though they're tempting when it's hot, stay off waterfalls; the algae and moss on their rocks have led to too many deadly falls.
* Caves also can be enticing, but stay out, unless 1) You're experienced at spelunking, 2) You have the proper gear, and; 3) The park allows it and you've obtained the necessary permits.
* Keep an eye to the sky. If you're visiting such Southwestern parks as Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, or Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, be sure to catch the weather report before you head out into the park for the day. And after that, glance at the sky every now and again. Thunderstorms can come quick to these places in the summer and into the fall, and they often produce flash floods. Folks have been caught unawares in slot canyons, and visitors who park their rigs too close to washes to get out and look around have had those rigs washed away.
Sometimes watching the sky is of little use, as it could be clear overhead, while a storm cell 10 miles up canyon dumps 6 inches of rain. That's why it's good to keep note of your surroundings so you can spot places where you can climb to safety if a flood comes barreling down on you.
Get the most out of your national park visit, but do it safely.