National Park Deaths Down So Far in 2011
The fatal fall of a hiker in Yosemite National Park and a river accident that swept away three other visitors have added to the record-breaking number of deaths at the popular vacation spot, but that’s not the case in all the nation’s parks.
Fewer people died in national parks in the first seven months of the year compared with the same period last year, USA Today reported.
There were 90 accidental deaths from Jan. 1 through July 31 in 39 of the 393 parks that make up the National Park Service. Last year, there were 98 deaths in 42 parks during that same time.
“We’ll wait to see what the last five months hold,” says Jeff Olson, a park service spokesman. “We’d be happy if we’ve seen the last fatality.”
He says car accidents, drownings and a helicopter crash contributed to the higher number of deaths in the first half of 2010. On average, 155 people die accidentally every year in the parks.
Drownings are the No. 1 cause of death. There have been 37 so far in 2011, compared with 38 during the same time last year.
Yosemite has had 14 deaths this year, six of them drownings. On July 19, three hikers were swept away by the swift-moving Merced River, which is swollen from melting snow. Park rangers found the body of one of the hikers Aug. 5. The others are presumed dead.
Haley LaFlamme, 26, died after she fell while hiking along cables on Yosemite’s Half Dome on July 31. The cables and rock were slippery and wet after a rainstorm.
“We’re seeing an increase in visitation, and we have more people on the trail,” Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb says. In all of last year, three people died accidentally in the park.
Olson says rangers in the parks warn visitors about conditions and give advice on staying safe. The park service isn’t planning any change in safety policy, he says.
Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, said in an interview on C-SPAN: “The thing to remember is that our national parks have hazards. … Our job is to inform the public of what they need to do to protect themselves, not fence off those hazards.”
Other popular parks had an increase in fatal accidents this year. The Grand Canyon had six, up from two in the first seven months last year. Denali National Park in Alaska had nine deaths so far, all in mountaineering accidents, compared with four in the same time last year.
Others, including Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, had fewer accidental deaths in the first seven months than last year.
Kurt Repanshek, editor of National Parks Traveler, says visitors need to be responsible for their safety.
“People on vacation are more laid-back than maybe they should be,” he says. “They encounter conditions they are not expecting or prepared for. … They need to be careful out there and use their best judgment, because conditions can be worse than what they are used to.”