Mount Rainier National Park Tragedy Examined

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January 4, 2012 by   - () Leave a Comment

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington likely isn't a first choice for most boondockers just now, as it's lying under a blanket of snow. But this week's drama and tragedy in the park highlight an important issue: What happens to RVers when chaos strikes on our public lands?

The Mount Rainier drama started to unfold Monday when a man fired on three rangers during a routine traffic stop. Ranger Margaret Anderson died, the park was immediately closed and a difficult man-hunt with more than 200 searchers began. With 368 square miles to cover, the task ahead was always going to be hard, the reported.

24-year-old Benjamin Colton Barnes quickly became a “person of interest.” He was a veteran of the Iraq conflict, survivalist, and a man who reportedly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The mother of his child had also taken out a temporary restraining order against him. Barnes is also a suspect in a shooting of four people at a New Year's party. Tuesday brought news that a body had been spotted, face-down, from the air. When a team reached it on foot, an hour later, the body was indeed Benjamin Colton Barnes; the suspect had died of exposure.

When such things happen, the logical course of action for national parks is either evacuation or safety in numbers. Especially in national parks, which are more developed than most, rangers are on hand to direct travelers to safety. In the case of Mount Rainier, tourists were simply required to pack up and leave until the coast is clear. They were first rounded up and brought to the visitor center, then were escorted out of the park under cover of darkness very early this morning.

RV boondockers expect the unexpected, but situations like this are a little more unexpected than most. While getting far from civilization is usually the goal of this lifestyle, it can be life-saving to keep in touch with the outside world, just in case. Consider acquiring a CB radio and a crankable weather or regular radio – no batteries or external power source necessary — for keeping up with broadcasts and reports; they'll be a lifeline when your cellphone stops working. A police scanner, where legal, can clue you into whether you need to get out or not.

If you're lucky enough to have satellite Internet, look on both the notices pages and for press releases on park websites; for example, the “notices” section of the Mount Rainier National Park website hadn't been updated to reflect its closure as of 6 p.m. January 2, though the information was available as a news release.

If you're going back-country, register with a ranger or office and check back in when you're done. If disaster strikes, staff can find you and help you get out to safety, like the 125 campers who were at Mount Rainier National Park last night.

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