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Park Service averages 11 searches per day

Associated Press / October 20, 2009

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SALT LAKE CITY - The ripest recipe for trouble in a national park? Young men hiking on a weekend who make a bad decision or two and end up hurt, exhausted, or lost.

On average, 11 search-and-rescue operations are launched in national parks every day. While expenses average around $900, the price can easily jump into the thousands of dollars, according to a new analysis of search-and-rescue operations over 15 years.

Travis Heggie, an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota who headed the study, also found that roughly 20 percent of the people who called for help probably would have died had they not been rescued.

Nearly half of the calls for help are for hikers, often out for the day, who are caught unprepared, get hurt or sick, or underestimate the wild landscape.

The results are similar to an analysis published earlier this year of national parks in Utah, which found that young male day-hikers were among those most likely to need rescuing.

Heggie’s study, published in the latest issue of the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, was an attempt to quantify the “untold story’’ of national parks’ search-and-rescue operations and see how much they cost.

He found more than 65,000 operations in 1992-2007, with total expenses exceeding $58 million.

The study also said that in 2005, half of the operations were in just five spots: Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park, New York’s Gateway National Recreation Area, California’s Yosemite National Park, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, and Nevada’s Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

The costs vary widely depending on the rescue’s difficulty, the terrain, and the equipment necessary, he said.

Individual parks pay for operations that cost $500 or less, while regional or national offices pick up higher tabs.