Friday, September 3, 2010

Geeks blunder in the wild

For all the comfort they provide as backups in genuine emergencies, electronic gadgets also are producing a heap of problems in the nation's parklands when misused by tenderfoots in the wild.

Guardians of the public lands say the number of incidents involving abuse of electronic technology have soared, and range from the comedic to the deadly.

The problem is obvious: Park visitors who're handy with electronics can be klutzes in the untamed outdoors.

The National Park Service reports, for example, countless examples of families unwisely corralling wild buffaloes and bears for photo poses with children, while others ignore warning signs and play around scalding hot geysers.

Others have used satellite phones and emergency locator beacons to summon "help" in the wilds—only to tell rescuers they needed drinking water. One lost hiker called in the need for hot cocoa.

"Because of having that electronic device," said Jackie Skaggs of Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park, "people have an expectation that they can do something stupid and be rescued." Some of those rescues entail helicopters and ground parties costing thousands of dollars.

At the deadly end of the spectrum were two Las Vegas young men, untrained for their adventure, who were killed in Utah's Zion National Park while floating a hand-built log raft through whitewater rapids—videotaping their adventure for a TV show.

As one Parks Service official explained, common sense, not technology, is always the best companion when alone enjoying nature.

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