Capstones

Graduation Date

Winter 12-17-2021

Grading Professor

Ben Lesser

Subject Concentration

Investigative

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Abstract

Across the country the number of search and rescue missions in national parks has been creeping up since 2018. While the number of missions being undertaken are up overall, some parks in particular have seen a dramatic spike in the number of people requiring rescue services, straining a patchwork, often volunteer-based search-and-rescue system. Some parks like Maine’s Acadia National Park, Zion National Park in Utah and the Grand Canyon National Park even experienced their busiest years to date in regards to the number of search and rescue calls they received.

Both former and current park rangers who go on search and rescue missions credit this increase to a number of things, including more unpredictable weather conditions, greater access to cellphones meaning people are becoming more likely to call for help rather than get themselves out of minor situations, and the fact that more inexperienced people are exploring the outdoors. The increase in demand has coincided with staffing shortages at many national parks which some park officials credit to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, amplifying the already intensive pressures park rangers face.

This story, which includes original data obtained from the U.S. National Park Service details all of the search and rescue missions of the past couple of years, looks at search and rescues’ role and chronicles the strain the increase is placing upon the system.

Link to capstone project: https://sahaliedonaldson05.wixsite.com/website-1

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Reese McMichael and Rowan Fitch, left to right, sit in a helicopter for a photo after being rescued by search and rescue rangers with the National Park Service. The boys were trapped in the Grand Canyon for five days and four nights. (Rowan Fitch)

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Zion National Park’s search and rescue teams, composed of highly coveted paid park ranger positions and volunteers from the community, operate out of its emergency operations center located near the park entrance. Jan. 1, 2022. (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Thérèse Picard, Acadia National park’s chief ranger, stands inside of a garage that holds the search and rescue gear that park rangers use to respond to the unprecedented number of search and rescue missions in 2021. Jan. 6, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Eagle Lake is just a few miles away from Acadia National Park's headquarters. Jan. 6, 2022. (Sahalie Donaldson)

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The town of Bar Harbor, a bustling tourist stop during Acadia National Park's busy season, is largely abandoned over the long winter months. Jan. 6, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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The town of Bar Harbor, a bustling tourist stop during Acadia National Park's busy season, is largely abandoned over the long winter months. Jan. 6, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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The town of Bar Harbor, a bustling tourist stop during Acadia National Park's busy season, is largely abandoned over the long winter months. Jan. 6, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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The town of Bar Harbor, a bustling tourist stop during Acadia National Park's busy season, is largely abandoned over the long winter months. Jan. 6, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Thérèse Picard, Acadia National park’s chief ranger, glances off to the side while recalling the busy year the park's search and rescue rangers faced. Jan. 6, 2022. (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Rangers embarking on search and rescue missions at Acadia National Park often use cross country skis during the winter to get to difficult to reach areas in heavy snow. Jan. 6, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Gear for search and rescue operations include colorful jackets, life vests, and heavy rubber protective suits. Jan. 6, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Térèse Picard, Acadia National park’s chief ranger, shows the contents of the park's only search and rescue vehicle. Jan. 6, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Térèse Picard, Acadia National park’s chief ranger, shows the contents of the park's only search and rescue vehicle. Jan. 6, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Térèse Picard, Acadia National park’s chief ranger, shows the contents of the park's only search and rescue vehicle. Jan. 6, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Térèse Picard, Acadia National park’s chief ranger, shows the contents of the park's only search and rescue vehicle. Jan. 6, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Acadia National Park headquarters is located about a ten minute drive from the well-known tourist town Bar Harbor. Jan. 6, 2022. (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Rangers drive into the parking lot outside of the park's headquarters on Jan. 7, 2022. (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Even during the winter, the park's slowest season, cars line up outside Zion National Park's entrance to get inside on Jan. 1, 2021 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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A park service vehicle left outside of the park's search and rescue operation center gleams in the sun on Jan. 1, 2022. (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Arock outside of Zion National Park's search and rescue operations center serves as a reminder for park rangers of their duties. Jan. 1, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Zion National Park visitors speed through one of the park's tunnels cutting through a mountain. Snatches of red rocks and patches of snow can be glimpsed momentarily through windows punctuating the tunnel's darkness. Jan. 1, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Zion National Park is known for its sweeping mountains. Jan. 1, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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The reflection in a car window shows Zion National Park's beauty. Jan. 1, 2022. (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Icicles cling to the side of a sloping rock wall just off of a hiking trail. Jan. 1, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Many of the larger parks that field many search and rescue missions, such as Zion and Acadia, simply don’t have the manpower to respond to every call on their own, which is why they also rely on the efforts of local volunteers. My little sister, who signed up to be a volunteer search and rescue person at Zion National Park in December, receives an automated text message on Jan. 1, 2022 informing her that the park service is in need of volunteers to assist with a carryout on Watchman Trail. (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Paul Crawford, the former head of emergency response at Lake Mead National Park, sits in the backyard of his Las Vegas home. Now retired from a 25 year career with the National Park Service, Crawford volunteers at a local fire department. Jan. 1, 2022. (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Paul Crawford walks down the stairs of his Las Vegas home, pausing for a moment to consider photographs taken during his 25 year career with the National Park Service. Jan. 1, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

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Paul Crawford walks down the stairs of his Las Vegas home, pausing for a moment to consider photographs taken during his 25 year career with the National Park Service. Jan. 1, 2022 (Sahalie Donaldson)

Available for download on Thursday, July 28, 2022

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