Adirondack backcountry rescues have been in the news lately. From the Saratoga man lost during a descent of Mount Marcy to the three different people requiring searches in a single day, the New York State search and rescue personnel are keeping busy. All this activity has renewed the controversy on whether those rescued should pay some or all of the cost of their rescues.
In addition to defraying the cost, the frequent rescues have spurred some interesting ideas from no-rescue zones to backcountry rescue insurance. While some ideas are intriguing, others border on the bizarre. A few of these ideas might even create new industries, such as body retrieval for the many cadavers littering the new no-rescue zones.
One idea not receiving much attention is backcountry licensing. Backcountry licensing is similar to motor vehicle licensing, where each individual traveling in the backcountry would be required to obtain and carry a license (or a permit for those hikers-in-training) or be subject to hefty fines for hiking without a license.
Like motor vehicle operation, prospective backcountry enthusiasts would have to take classes, pass both a written exam and an in-the-field exam (with a bespectacled, clip-board carrying examiner most likely covered in a head net), and perhaps even carry backcountry rescue insurance. Or maybe insurance would only be required while purchasing hiking boots.
Backcountry education classes would include basic survival skills, navigation methods, wilderness first aid, lean-to etiquette, proper insect repellent application methods and all the other necessary knowledge required to properly enjoy the Adirondack backcountry.
Enforcement of these new backcountry rules might be difficult. Perhaps requiring radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on all hiking boots used in the Adirondacks could facilitate enforcement. RFID readers placed at all trailheads, trail intersections, lean-tos and occasionally on random trees (to catch any of those wily bushwhacking types).
Placing rangers and other state personnel at strategic locations to catch non-compliant hikers might be helpful too. These “hiking traps” probably need to be moved around from time to time, as the accumulating doughnut boxes might alert hikers to their existence.
Does the hiker’s license sound like a silly idea? Of course it does! As do many of the other ideas I have seen proposed, including prosecuting those rescued for their carelessness. Search and rescue is a community service, such as police and fire protection and should remain so.
For purposes of total disclosure, I must admit to have availed myself of New York State’s search and rescue services once early in my hiking career. This was not due to any carelessness or lack of preparedness on my part, but as a result of the 1995 Microburst, which no one has yet been able to prove any responsibility for that storm on my part.
And I was assured at the time I would not be billed for their services. And hopefully this will not be changed in the future.
Photos: Red Horse Trail in the Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.
Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.