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Old 10-11-2017, 10:54 PM   #1
Golddragon214
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Hikers Coming To The Adirondacks Often Unprepared

https://www.northcountrypublicradio....repared-unsafe

by Brian Mann (Adirondack Bureau Chief) & Martha Foley (News and Public Affairs Director) , in Newcomb, NY

Oct 11, 2017 ó New York state forest rangers face a growing pace of searches and rescues in the Adirondack Park. Today we're looking at one of the big factors contributing to the spike of emergencies in the back country. State officials and outdoor experts say too many hikers and campers are coming to the North Country unprepared. Sometimes that leads to tragic outcomes.

Unprepared to survive

Last month when forest rangers were searching for Alex Stevens deep in the Adirondack backcountry, it quickly became clear that the 28-year-old hiker from New Jersey was out of his element, without the right skills or equipment.

"Heís not very well prepared, be real clear on that," said Lt. Brian Dubay the incident commander in Newcomb. "We believe any warm weather clothing that he thought he had we consider to be inferior. He had a lot of cotton. We believe that he purchased a hammock."

Early in his trip into the High Peaks wilderness, Stevens was caught in cold rain. His lack of foresight proved fatal. Frank Whitelaw is the Essex county coroner called in after Stevens body was recovered.

"He certainly didnít have any food with him, he didnít have a compass, and he didnít have the means to start a fire," Whitelaw said. "When you donít eat, youíre going to make bad decisions and youíre not going to be able to function after a while."

Biting off more than they can chew

Backcountry experts and outdoor guides say more and more people are turning up in the Adirondacks - even some of the most remote parts of the Adirondacks - without anything like the proper equipment or training. Thatís contributed to a surge in the number of searches, the number of rescues and the number of deaths in the backcountry.

"Many of these rescues are happening because people bite off more than they can chew," said Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"They're coming into the outdoors, they're not prepared for it, they don't have a plan, they haven't talked to anybody, they don't have any emergency equipment. The public has to have safety in mind when they go and try to bag a peak."
Thereís a growing sense in the Park that this message isnít getting across. To many people are learning about the Adirondack Mountains through tourism marketing campaigns and social media but theyíre not grasping the fact that wild country poses

This has been discussed here many times and a lot of us see people that are mentioned in the article on nearly every trip.


When a day trip turns into a night in the north woods

Eric Lahr heads the New York state forest ranger division. He says even people planning a short outing in the Park should think about survival. "If they're planning for a day hike, they need to come prepared to stay then night. You can only teach folks that so much."

Another thing that forest rangers say visitors arenít grasping is that conditions here often differ wildly from what they experience back home or at lower elevations. "Bring the appropriate equipment not only for the weather you're experiencing at home," said Lt. Brian Dubay. "You go up on the summit of Marcy and itís like going up to James Bay in Canada, temperature-wise, and then you add winds on top of that."
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Old 10-12-2017, 08:09 AM   #2
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Very sad story. A tragedy that didn't have to be. No doubt we all have seen people unprepared to be in the backcountry. Specifically mentioned in the article was cotton. Cotton kills plain and simple. When will people ever learn?

Another growing problem is dumb people with "smartphones". Young people who think their phone can do everything including backcountry navigation. After all, they did download the latest app that will answer all their questions. "Hey Yuri, I'm lost. Do I go left or right up ahead?" "Hey Yuri, what is a compass?"

None of this surprises me as I see unprepared people all the time. Some years ago, I temporarily surrendered my goretex jacket to a dad and teenage son in t-shirts and jeans (from NJ) who were shivering uncontrollably on the final assault up a high peak. A storm had come in, the temperature had dropped, and it was pouring and they didn't have rain gear. Needless to say I had a few words with the dad on our hike back to their car as I got drenched helping them out.

In an era when information is easily available at a person's fingertips, there is no excuse for being unprepared. None. Sadly, I fully expect to see more bad conclusions for unprepared hikers not less.
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Old 10-12-2017, 09:22 AM   #3
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I know we've had similar discussions on other similar threads, but as a resident of NY I would fully be in favor for some sort of user permit/license system for high use areas, where we often hear/read about such instances.

Serious question... How often do you come across an unprepared hunter or fishermen? Sure there are a few here & there, but I think that it is pretty rare. I don't see anything wrong with some sort of official registry system for hikers & campers, be it a license or permit (fee or self-issue), or card, or whatever...where users can be held more accountable for their actions with some sort of official record, other than just having to sign & out of a trail register, which many people don't even bother doing. I think the Trailhead Steward program is a step in the right direction, and hopefully efforts like this can grow and positive change will begin to occur, and the numbers of unprepared & uneducated users will begin to decrease instead of increasing.

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Old 10-12-2017, 09:45 AM   #4
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I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiment in the article. It is disconcerting to see hikers miles from a trail head with a smartphone and not much else. And the recent incident is tragic.

The general feeling is that rescue incidents are increasing. But the number of hikers is increasing, rapidly.

Do stats confirm that rescues required per hiker entering the woods have increased? Education and warnings along this line can only be helpful. Just wondering whether the underlying premise is accurate.

Even if rescues per capita have increased, it could simply because smartphones have made rescue requests more accessible. Not necessarily because a higher percentage of hikers are unprepared.

I imagine unprepared hikers have been entering the woods for a long time. Percentage of hikers wearing cotton had to be higher in the 90's than it is today?

We're posting on an internet forum. So by definition we skew to an older demographic. Wondering whether this may reflect a "millennials are stupid" bias.

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Old 10-12-2017, 10:04 AM   #5
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i would disagree with having additional permits fees regs
between NY res and PA non res i already pay +$300/yr in various fees/licenses/permits,
how much more will i have to pay?
as for miminal standards to hike? acording to who?
the ultralighter who cringes at an additional 6oz? or the basecamp hunter who carries a 50 lb pack and gets lost 100 yds from his truck?
i sometimes wear jeans and would hate to be told i cant hike this trail because i dont look like a REI model
or my backpack is last years models,
or my synthetic base in not antimicrobial i may offend other hikers with my odors
guess no one believes in HYOH anymore
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Old 10-12-2017, 10:16 AM   #6
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Something that never seems to come up is the fact that some people above 40 are unprepared physically (ie. out of shape) to exert themselves. Some of that cohort have heart attacks or experience debilitating mal-aise. Others have an increased probability of being injured or getting exhausted. I have no idea what the stats are but hikers and hunters are two groups that one hears about in this regard. So, while millennials are an obvious target they aren't the only under-prepared demographic.
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Old 10-12-2017, 10:32 AM   #7
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Serious question... How often do you come across an unprepared hunter or fishermen? Sure there are a few here & there, but I think that it is pretty rare.
I have had more interaction with lost hunter then hikers. Camped near Whitehouse on the NPT, sitting up by the campfire when two hunter appear out of the woods, drawn by our fire. They admitted they were thankful as they could not find the trail. Spent a night at the Millman Pond LT, snow/ice storm during the night, sounded like gunshots all night long as tree limbs snapped off. Woke to an obliterated trail. As we pick our way out, ran into a hunter who gotten turned around and had no idea where he was. Allegany NF Hearts Content area, woke in the middle of the night with bright lights in the woods and dogs barking, SAR out looking for an over due hunter. A quick Google search brings up many more examples in NY. I don't think poor decision making is limited to just hikers.

As for your suggestion of a permit system . Would this apply to all state land or just some areas. Day hikers, or just overnight camping. Would I have to notify the State of NY of my hiking plans every time I stepped a foot on state land? Would I need to do so for short hikes like when we walk our dog on the Dear Pond loop or up Panther Mt. (the one on Route 3) or Coney or Goodman. These are short easy hikes near our home.

What I see as the most common feature of most of these incidents is hiking alone, maybe the DEC should require everyone hike in at least pairs.
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Old 10-12-2017, 11:01 AM   #8
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Something that never seems to come up is the fact that some people above 40 are unprepared physically (ie. out of shape) to exert themselves. Some of that cohort have heart attacks or experience debilitating mal-aise. Others have an increased probability of being injured or getting exhausted. I have no idea what the stats are but hikers and hunters are two groups that one hears about in this regard. So, while millennials are an obvious target they aren't the only under-prepared demographic.
Interesting point.

Here's a synopsis of the latest DEC report:
  • 78 year old male: reported missing but found safe, never in woods
  • 64 year old woman: lost
  • 51 year old male: injured
  • 23 & 24 year old females: trouble following the herd path, unexpected night in the woods, cell phone contact with DEC
  • 53 year old male: injured

Doesn't mean much as it's a tiny sample size. But the 2 injuries where fitness/ability may have been an issue were older people. And the all night search where skill/preparedness may have been an issue were younger people.

Of course, no one is going to start a three page thread or write an article about the need to get in shape before entering the woods.

But the 2 young ladies are a prime candidate for that treatment. Not that it's necessarily unfair. Their situation seems more negligent and the human and financial resources impacted were much more substantial.
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Old 10-12-2017, 11:16 AM   #9
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I've always contended that being in shape is the keystone to preparedness. That's where I think preparation should always start. Then you add all the other elements.
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Old 10-12-2017, 11:42 AM   #10
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i would disagree with having additional permits fees regs
between NY res and PA non res i already pay +$300/yr in various fees/licenses/permits,
how much more will i have to pay?
Hypothetically, You wouldn't have to pay anything more if it was a free & self-issuing permit-like system, or perhaps even unnecessary if you have a hunting and/or fishing license. But I'm also not against having to pay another fee if the revenue could be properly allocated for better education, enforcment, and maintenance.

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Would this apply to all state land or just some areas. Day hikers, or just overnight camping. Would I have to notify the State of NY of my hiking plans every time I stepped a foot on state land?
I was thinking more along the lines in high-use areas to start with, such as the high peaks region, where it seems like many of these incidents occur. If it seems to make a positive difference then I wouldn't be against expanding it to other popular areas as well.

Obviously just telling people that they need to be in shape and to do their homework & be prepared & follow LNT is not really working. Maybe it's time for some changes in order to keep the numbers of S&R's and misusers from increasing with an understaffed DEC & other personnel.

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Old 10-12-2017, 01:40 PM   #11
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... such as the high peaks region, where it seems like many of these incidents occur. ...
Based on 2015's data, most SAR incidents occur outside the High Peaks region.

Late in 2015, I complied and categorized all the incidents the DEC had reported (they're available on the DEC's site under Press Releases) from January to November. Of the 190 incidents, ~64 occurred in the High Peaks region.

People tend to discuss the incidents that get widely reported, namely "lost hiker". They propose all sorts of things to counter the 'sky-rocketing number of clueless and unprepared hikers' (and less flattering adjectives) who get lost and place a heavy burden on state resources, etc.

For the High Peaks region in 2015, the leading category was "injured" hiker (33), followed by "distressed" (16), and, in a distant third place, "lost" (9).

Out of the tens of thousands of hikers that visit the High Peaks region annually (perhaps more than 100K), just 9 got lost and needed rescue. A few dozen others twisted, broke, or sprained something ... or suffered from dehydration, fatigue or cardiac issues ("distress").

That's a tiny fraction of the total number of visitors. Basically, fate smiles on the vast majority of hikers.

I did not repeat the exercise for 2016 (or 2017) but several media reports indicate SAR incidents have increased. I believe this year's tally is somewhere north of 300 (for the entire ADK Park).

What's unclear is if the ratio of victims to visitors has increased or has remained the same (i.e. there are more incidents only because there are more visitors). Either way, it's not good for DEC Rangers because their ranks aren't expanding proportionally.

It's important to analyze the data before proposing solutions. From 2015's data, handing out maps, or explaining the Ten Essentials, or licensing hikers, isn't going to reduce the leading cause of SAR incidents, injury. You can be licensed, equipped, and know precisely where you are, and still fall and require assistance/evacuation.

Perhaps one solution is to examine where these injuries occur, detect any problem spots, and fix the trails that cause the most injuries. Fitness and good health prior to a hike is definitely important but a very tough sell for NYS; it's not something you can quickly acquire before a hike. However, NYS has complete control over the trails and can definitely eliminate needless hazards.
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Old 10-12-2017, 01:50 PM   #12
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It's important to analyze the data before proposing solutions. From 2015's data, handing out maps, or explaining the Ten Essentials, or licensing hikers, isn't going to reduce the leading cause of SAR incidents, injury. You can be licensed, equipped, and know precisely where you are, and still fall and require assistance/evacuation.

Perhaps one solution is to examine where these injuries occur, detect any problem spots, and fix the trails that cause the most injuries. Fitness and good health prior to a hike is definitely important but a very tough sell for NYS; it's not something you can quickly acquire before a hike. However, NYS has complete control over the trails and can definitely eliminate needless hazards.
i see good opportunity here for scouts ,
can have various service projects concerning this issue
educate hikers at popular trailheads, provide conditions report, evaluate some hikers, see flip flops, maybe remind them not such a good idea
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Old 10-12-2017, 02:03 PM   #13
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Thanks Taras. In general, I agree.

A few points:

>This is another confirmation of the need for full time trailhead stewards. A face to face interaction, explaining to people what they are getting into, and how to be prepared, works wonders. For example, I spoke earlier this summer with one the volunteer trailhead stewards for Cascade. He told me that even in one day, he had at least a couple conversations that resulted in people going back to their cars and putting on hiking shoes instead of sandals for the hike. Perhaps these were injuries prevented? Another example: In this weekend's Cascade re-route exercise, hikers were met by a trailhead steward who explained the new, longer distance, and suggested Mt. Van Ho as an alternative. Many hikers took that suggestion. Knowing that fatigue often leads to injury, perhaps these were injuries prevented?

>Self issuing permits were already tried, 20 years ago. NY State couldn't maintain the program, and it collapsed. (And in an ugly way, with zero communication, overstuffed permit boxes unattended for years, permit scrap paper littering the woods, etc..)

>Solutions to this all require that money come OUT from Albany to the Park. And it has to be serious money (many tens of millions) to address years of mismanagement. This level of funding will not be raised by any permit or fee program; it has to be budgeted. Any paid system where money goes IN to Albany is a waste of time. Money that goes into Albany stays in Albany. Period. Many investigations have shown that even when the public statement is that this permit or fee money is being used to support the resource, that's simply not true. It's always a shell game. Ten more dollars of permit or entry fee money results in ten less dollars in the regular budget. Always. Everywhere (not just in NY). Until the State decides to address these issues seriously, we will just be nipping around the edges of the problems.
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Old 10-12-2017, 02:08 PM   #14
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...For the High Peaks region in 2015, the leading category was "injured" hiker (33),
Good to know, thanks TB.

Please correct me if I wrong but... Back in '15 didn't the DEC also include a little tidbit at the end of each incident summary stating: "Always wear proper footwear, plan ahead, know your limitations, etc"?
It seems the DEC has since stopped doing that in their reports, and now just add it all at the end after the last incident report.

I wonder how many of those injury incidents in '15 had that "Always wear proper footwear" reminder at the end..?
To me that kinda sounds like being unprepared.
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Old 10-12-2017, 02:19 PM   #15
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@Terasec

I don't know what sort of projects scouts take on nowadays but it would be very cool to have them collect and analyze 5 years worth of DEC SAR incidents. If they could map the location of all injuries (I don't know how much detail the DEC records) perhaps they'll be able to provide insight into the cause of injuries. For example, (pure speculation) 75% of High Peaks injuries occur on just three trails that are heavily frequented by inexperienced hikers.

Even if the data doesn't reveal anything very eye-opening, by reviewing the details of each SAR incident, scouts learn about what happens to people in the backcountry ... and how their own training (Be prepared) helps keep them out of those statistics.
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Old 10-12-2017, 02:28 PM   #16
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I know we've had similar discussions on other similar threads, but as a resident of NY I would fully be in favor for some sort of user permit/license system for high use areas, where we often hear/read about such instances.

Serious question... How often do you come across an unprepared hunter or fishermen? Sure there are a few here & there, but I think that it is pretty rare. I don't see anything wrong with some sort of official registry system for hikers & campers, be it a license or permit (fee or self-issue), or card, or whatever...where users can be held more accountable for their actions with some sort of official record, other than just having to sign & out of a trail register, which many people don't even bother doing.
I don't think the hunter/angler licensing system has anything to do with instilling more personal responsibility (at least not as it pertains to wilderness survival). Rather, I think hunters and anglers are inherently more prepared to deal with the wilderness due to the uncertainty of how and where most hunts will end. And that's not to say that all hunters are always prepared for going into the wilderness; some aren't and end up getting rescued by the Rangers. But when comparing the average hunter to the average hiker (who is often coming from a suburban/urban background), I think the hunter is generally better prepared.

I think what will instill more personal accountability is enacting some sort of fine or legal punishment for outdoor users (hunters, hikers, bikers, snowmobilers, ect.) who demonstrate negligence or poor judgement and require a rescue by the state. Now, there is some subjectivity on what constitutes "negligence," but even a somewhat vague regulation (with some built-in legal discretion on the responding Ranger/LEO's part) would do a lot to discourage poorly prepared people from going out into the woods.

Some of the Ranger highlights I read strike me as borderline criminal negligence. I'm not saying the State and volunteers shouldn't be willing to rescue people, but if a person gets lost because of pure negligence and it costs the State money to rescue him/her, there should be some sort of fine levied on that person, both to help compensate the taxpayer expenditure and teach that person the value of diligence and preparation. That or maybe a mandatory outdoor education course.

A lot of people get hurt or killed nowadays (to include getting lost in the wilderness) because they don't understand there are consequences for their actions (or inactions). Demonstrate to people that there are consequences for going into the ADK wilderness unprepared, and I guarantee we'll see a drop-off in incidents. That is perhaps a bit more nanny-state oriented than what I would like to see from my State government (truthfully, I'm in favor of Alaska's system where it's taken for granted you're going to die if you go into the woods unprepared), but with the ever increasing numbers of inexperienced (that's putting it politely) hikers visiting the ADK's, I fear this problem will only get worse if left unaddressed.

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Old 10-12-2017, 02:31 PM   #17
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Old 10-12-2017, 02:45 PM   #18
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... Back in '15 didn't the DEC also include a little tidbit at the end of each incident summary stating: "Always wear proper footwear, plan ahead, know your limitations, etc"?
Yeah, I think they did but, like you said, they stopped doing that for each incident. No idea why they stopped but I thought it made for a good "moral of the story" ending.

As for footwear, I've grown to be more lax about that. Last Saturday, a rainy/drizzly day, I watched a group of backpackers pass by and one was wearing sport-sandals. Wet muddy feet and all. All I thought was that it seemed like an uncomfortable arrangement but he seemed to be doing fine. I've even met barefoot backpackers and they were negotiating rough trails with no problems.

I used to think I'd never hike in trail-runners (not enough support, protection, etc) and now it's my first choice of footwear. Even wet feet no longer bother me (much).

All this to say, it's tough to judge a hiker's "skillz" from outward appearances. Maybe the person in flip-flops is making a huge mistake or maybe they normally hike barefoot and today they're going for "extra protection"!

Similarly, the power-couple clad in spandex and jogging down the slope in slipper-like shoes might actually be incredibly tough, nimble, and fast. They'll be up and down the mountain before the rest of the crowd reaches the summit. Whereas the couple wearing boots and carrying enough gear to counter every known backcountry threat will be the first to succumb to injury because they only hike twice a year.

But, yes, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; the only reason that packless person, clutching a water bottle, makes it out is because fate and the fine weather allowed it.
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Old 10-12-2017, 03:11 PM   #19
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...
I think what will instill more personal accountability is enacting some sort of fine or legal punishment for outdoor users (hunters, hikers, bikers, snowmobilers, ect.) who demonstrate negligence or poor judgement and require a rescue by the state.
New Hampshire agreed with this position and instituted the "HikeSafe" program. http://hikesafe.com/index.php?page=about-us

For a $25 annual fee you basically get a "get out of negligence free" card; it covers the cost of your rescue even if it was due to negligence. However, it doesn't cover it if you are deemed to have been reckless. What's the difference? "Reckless" is something a "reasonable person" would not do. If that sounds a bit too vague (reasonable hiker or a reasonable armchair hiker?) many people think so too. NH's courts have the last word on what constitutes negligence vs recklessness.

For example, a backpacker whose artificial hip had a history of dislocation (ugh!) went backpacking on a foul day and his hip dislocated. He was charged for the rescue. He lost in court.


If you don't have a HikeSafe card and require a rescue, you get charged nothing if they conclude you were neither negligent nor reckless (you were well prepared but fate still found a way).


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Demonstrate to people that there are consequences for going into the ADK wilderness unprepared, and I guarantee we'll see a drop-off in incidents.
You can check if you're right by examining New Hampshire Fish and Games records since they instituted HikeSafe. Perhaps they've published the stats.

BTW, based on a quick search of VFTT.org (hiking forum largely devoted to hiking in New Hampshire and Maine) there are reports of recent rescues where the victims did NOT have a HikeSafe card and were billed.
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Old 10-12-2017, 03:23 PM   #20
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New Hampshire agreed with this position and instituted the "HikeSafe" program. http://hikesafe.com/index.php?page=about-us

For a $25 annual fee you basically get a "get of our negligence free" card; it covers the cost of your rescue even if it was due to negligence. However, it doesn't cover it if you are deemed to have been reckless. What's the difference? "Reckless" is something a "reasonable person" would not do. If that sounds a bit too vague (reasonable hiker or a reasonable armchair hiker?) many people think so too. NH's courts have the last word on what constitutes negligence vs recklessness.

For example, a backpacker whose artificial hip had a history of dislocation (ugh!) went backpacking on a foul day and his hip dislocated. He was charged for the rescue. He lost in court.
I've heard of NH's program as well, and I'd be a fan of enacting something similar for NY. I understand there could be some legal disagreements over what constitutes "reckless" or "negligent" behavior, but I'd rather have to deal with that problem than deal with increasing rescue operations putting an increased financial strain on the state budget. If we can discourage poorly-prepared hikers from going out, we can focus state funds and efforts on true conservation efforts.

And as harsh as this may sound, I agree with the court's decision on the backpacker with the artificial hip; people should know their limitations and capabilities when going out into the wilderness.
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