With the start of summer vacation we’re seeing the typical increase of headline news associated with people interacting with animals & nature. From tragic stories such as the children snatched by alligators and falling into zoo enclosures, to tourists falling into geysers and hot springs, there seems to be an abundance of catastrophic, heartbreaking and deadly accidents taking place around the country.
Our National Parks out west have been besieged by people doing stupid stuff all year, many paying the ultimate price for their mistakes. Here’s a video of a woman petting a bison (yes, you heard me, a bison!). Luckily she walked away from the incident.
These tourists weren’t so lucky. And in the case of the Canadians who put a bison in their SUV (thinking it was cold); the animal was euthanized after eventually being rejected by the herd.
In some cases it was a matter of being unprepared. A 38-year-old hiker who was found in Rocky Mountain NP in February was the second fatality this year. And it was just last year the French couple died in White Sands National Monument from heat and lack of water; miraculously their nine-year-old son survived.
We have incidents of tourists venturing off marked boardwalks and falling into thermal springs – with calamitous results. A 23-year-old man walked about 225 yards from the boardwalk in Yellowstone National Park and fell into the Norris Geyser Basin; authorities soon suspended the search for his body, determining there were 'no remains left to recover'.
Some tragedies aren’t just a case of staying on the marked path – take the case of the USFS law enforcement officer who was killed by a grizzly bear while mountain biking. He was a long-time employee of the Forest Service, and well-versed in human/bear encounter safety. Luckily this mountain biker vs. bear story had a different ending…
Right here in the Upstate… Despite multiple signs warning people to stay out of the water and away from the falls, one young man found himself needing to be rescued from the base of the waterfall in Falls Park, at the heart of downtown Greenville. Signs are there for your safety; in addition to the hazards of slippery rocks and the waterfall itself, there are the dangers of swimming in contaminated water. The Reedy River is not safe due to high levels of all sorts of nasty stuff, fecal matter (and therefore bacteria), fertilizer and pesticides topping the list. Not to mention most freshwater bodies of water in SC test positive for amoebas in July and August, although to introduce the “brain-eating” amoeba (that’s being blamed for the death of a teen in NC last month) into your nasal cavities, it usually takes an activity like whitewater rafting or water skiing without a nose clip. Just stay out of the water in posted areas.
Many of these incidents can be chalked up to bad luck, such as the shark encounters we’ve already seen up and down the coast. But others are a combination of chance and bad decisions, and there’s been an increase of these right here in the Upstate and surrounding area. The waterfall rescue is just one of a dozen incidents in the region, some resulting in expensive rescue operations and others in death. Is that selfie really worth the risk?
On our recent visit to Little Bradley Falls dozens of people were climbing the steep slopes to the top of the falls, and even more were clambering around on the slick rocks at the base. This seems a rather harmless example of summer fun, until one takes into account the multiple deaths at some of our favorite waterfall attractions in the Blue Ridge mountain area. Wildcat Branch Falls has been the site of two deaths in recent years ; “we've had over the years, probably seven or eight fatalities from the falls here, and dozens of cases of severe injuries," said River Falls Fire Chief David Embry concerning Wildcat Wayside after the death of an Upstate man in 2013. Just a couple of months ago two men died near Raven Cliff Falls, one man trying to reach his best friend who had fallen to a ledge below, both dying in the attempt. In March at Jones Gap State Park, a 20-year-old woman who had hiked to the top of the falls to take a picture fell 45 feet, headfirst, off the waterfall.
So what’s the takeaway message? Use your head. Know the risks of the area you are visiting, and do your best to minimize it. Don’t traverse slippery rocks 100 feet above the waterfall for the sake of a picture. Leave snakes and other wildlife alone. Keep a close eye on the kids, and obey posted signs. Check for ticks when you get home. Know your limits, but most of all, use common sense. What really matters isn’t that Instagram shot or bragging rights; it’s coming home safe after our adventures in the spectacular region we love.