After two people were injured in falls at the Garden of the Gods in the past three weeks, officials spoke about ways hikers can avoid accidents.
Lt. Tracy Felty, of the Saline County Sheriff’s Office, said the park averages five to six falls per year. With a 20-25 minute minimum emergency response time in the remote area, Felty said it’s important hikers plan ahead before they hit the trails. He said proper preparation is key to helping prevent or handle an emergency situation in the wilderness.
Many falls happen because people don’t dress appropriately for a hike, Felty said.
“Often times I’ll see people out there in flip- flops and sandals, and they’ll be jumping from rock to rock,” Felty said.
If a hiker falls into a deep ravine, Felty said it can take 45 minutes to an hour for a repelling team to recover the injured hiker and bring him or her to safety. He said being rescued by a helicopter can be expensive, too, as its starting rate is $14,000.
Traveling in a group can be the best way to hike safely, he said.
“It’s always good to have a group with you in case there is an emergency,” Felty said. “Whether it’s a fall or something else, you know you are out in the middle of a wilderness area, and there are animals out there.”
Rattlesnakes and Copperheads are the two main threats that Felty said could create problems for hikers.
Amanda Patrick, public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said plants and temperature can pose a constant threat to unaware hikers
much like animals can. She said visitors should also be wary of the season before they can properly plan a hike.
Patrick said summertime presents many risks to hikers.
“With potential heat stroke and being outside, it’s important to make sure folks stay hydrated,” she said. “It’s also important to wear sunscreen and bug repellant because there are lots of different animals and insects and even plants like poison ivy out there.”
Felty said proper provisions should also be taken to ensure a safe departure and return, and a GPS is one of the best items to bring along. He said the device can help a hiker give the exact location of an accident to emergency response locations.
However, it’s not always the best idea to rely on a cellphone GPS because reception can be limited in an area as big as the Garden of the Gods, Felty said.
Patrick said having solid information on Shawnee National Forest can give hikers the best advantage, so it’s always a good idea to call the Office of the Shawnee National Forest Information Desk to receive information about a park at 1-800-MY-WOODS.
Thaddeus Portz, treasurer of the climbing club, said he thinks people expect situations to be safer than they are, which in turn makes them underprepared.
“There’s almost this sense that everything around us is safer than it is because we live in a controlled environment with handrails everywhere, you know, people get this idea that they’re safe,” Portez said.