While visitors to national parks have been getting into trouble long before the age of technology dawned (witness visitors feeding bears or trying to dip their hands in scalding geysers, despite posted warnings), technology has added a new dimension to park rangersâ€™ problems. Record attendance this summer has meant an increasing number of technology-related incidents that have proven costly for the National Park Service, which often misguidedly has to send search-and-rescue teams unnecessarily.
The age of YouTube has spawned more visitors putting themselves in dangerous situations, even risking their own lives. In an extreme example, two young men were killed in Utahâ€™s Zion National Park while trying to float down the Virgin River on a homemade raft for televisionâ€™s â€œMan vs. Wildâ€ competition. Neither was an experienced outdoorsman, nor did they have adequate supplies or skills for their journey.
This is a common problem. Technology gives the artificial sense of safety to visitors who take risks they might not otherwise have attempted with the illusion that someone will come to their rescue quickly, should trouble occur. Not only have there been many false rescues, but many national park visitors have hit emergency signals on their personal satellite messaging devices, which do not allow two-way communication with rangers to determine the severity of the problem.
Often, too, cell phones have poor reception in national parks, with cell towers many miles away from where trouble brews, requiring more time for help to arrive even if the signal works. GPS systems are another source of technology-based problems, with untrained visitors relying on them to their detriment. In an article in the New York Times, Kyle Patterson of Rocky Mountain National Park noted, â€œWe have seen people who have solely relied on GPS technology but were not using common sense or maps and compasses, and it leads them astray.â€
People will continue to make foolish mistakes in national parks, as they do in life. However, with the added consequences of being in a wild area when trouble strikes, people need to learn to rely on basic skills and common sense as much as they do technology.