Safety in U.S. National Parks
Happy Birthday NPS!
The National Park Service, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, has given all Americans something to be proud of: stunning, thriving national parks. The United States is home to 59 national parks, plus many monuments and other historic sights. All of them are uniquely breathtaking. The most visited national parks in the United States are:
- Great Smoky Mountains (North Carolina and Tennessee)
- Grand Canyon (Arizona)
- Rocky Mountains (Colorado)
- Yosemite (California)
- Yellowstone (Wyoming, Utah, and Montana)
- Zion (Utah)
- Olympic (Washington)
- Grand Teton (Wyoming)
- Acadia (Maine)
- Glacier (Montana)
As you can see, many of the most well-known national parks are in the western part of the country. Florida, though, is also home to some beautiful parks and monuments, like the Everglades, or the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine.
National parks are generally safe. In 2014, there were around 340 deaths in national parks. It should be noted, however, that many deaths occurred because of vehicle accidents, preexisting medical conditions, or suicide. Other common causes of death include drowning, avalanches, heat or cold exposure, and falls. Men, particularly those in their twenties, are the most likely group to sustain a fatality at a national park, while foreign visitors are also at high risk.
Only six wildlife-related deaths have occurred in national parks over the past seven years, and have involved animals such as grizzly bears, mountain goats, and snakes. Still, it is important to respect the park’s wildlife. Wildlife varies depending on the park’s location and terrain, but commonly seen wildlife includes
- Ravens and other large birds
While the wildlife is national parks may be fascinating, and on occasion, may even seem non-threatening. However, it is important to avoid contact with these animals. If wildlife becomes used to humans, they are more likely to approach, resulting in injury. Sometimes, habituated animals must be euthanized. Watch all wildlife from a safe distant, and never feed or touch any animals in a national park.
Most deaths that occur at national parks are attributed “errors in judgment.” Use good judgment by simply following the park’s rules, and always be alert of your surroundings. The park will have a guide to tell you about the region’s specific rules, and there will be signs around the park to warn you of any potential risks. Park rangers are also available to help keep you safe and informed.
The safety risks of a national park vary depending on the park’s location. In the Everglades, you might have to worry about heatstroke and mosquito bites, while a trek through Yellowstone means being aware of thermal springs.
Crime in the national parks is also an infrequent but serious concern. There have been cases of murder, sexual assault, and robbery over the past years, but these events are incredibly rare. Vandalism has also been an issue in recent years, with people defacing natural features of the parks, or removing plants, rocks, or other wildlife from the parks. Thankfully, the majority of visitors understand the importance of the national parks, and do their part to maintain the scenery. If you witness criminal behavior in a national park, inform a park ranger, or call the park’s crime tip line.
And of course, be careful when taking selfies around cliffs, wildlife, water, or other potentially hazardous parts of national parks. You’ll only have a great picture to show off to your friends if you make it home in once piece!
For more information, visit the National Park Service online.
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