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|July 9 - July 15, 2009
•Two sports are better than one
by Wina Sturgeon
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Try a national park
What to expect when heading to a national park
by Emilie Le Beau
Headed to a national park this summer? So are millions of other visitors.
More than 9 million people visit the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina each year, said spokesperson Nancy Gray.
Other National Parks are just as busy. About 25,000 people will enter Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming on a busy summer day, said spokesperson Al Nash.
And Rocky Mountain National Park is no exception.
Visitor numbers for this summer have seen a sharp increase over last summer’s numbers.
Visiting a busy park can be a crowded experience, but visitors may leave the developed areas and head deeper into the wilderness.
“The majority stay in the developed areas, but some go to the back country,” Gray said.
Heading into the back country requires physical preparation and planning. Here is a guide on what to expect when heading to a national park this summer:
Plan and pack
Preparing for a trip to a national park goes beyond packing a few water bottles and wearing decent shoes. National parks vary in elevation and visitors must be in proper physical condition.
“We have a half million acres, this is a mountainous area,” Gray said. “People think they can hike a distance but it takes more endurance.”
Hikers must know their physical limitations and plan a realistic route that is appropriate for their level of fitness. Visitors are encouraged to view maps in advance or speak with a ranger at the visitor’s center. “Make sure you have enough daylight to hike,” Gray said.
Visitors should also research the weather and pack appropriately. Many national parks are in elevations in which the temperature scorches during the day but plunges at night. “Don’t just pack sandals, shorts and T-shirts to come to Yellowstone,” Nash said.
Rain should also be carefully considered. At some national parks, downpours are frequent and can swell streams quickly. “We’ve had drownings in the national parks; it comes from people who don’t recognize the dangers,” Gray said.
Visitors should also research whether permits are required for intended activities. An overnight camping permit, for example, may be required at some parks.
Give thought to food storage and supply
Hikers planning a day trip simply need to pack snacks and water. Campers, however, must purchase appropriate gear such as bear canisters to comply with park regulations regarding food storage.
“We have incidents with bears,” Gray said.
More than 1,500 bears live in the Smokey Mountains, and Gray said food-conditioned bears are a nuisance the park rangers must manage. Bear incidents require Smokey Mountain campers to keep food locked in a car trunk, food locker, or suspended from a tree.
Bear encounters are a serious concern at other parks. At Yellowstone, rangers will confiscate food and cooking supplies that are not properly contained.
Parks also have rules regarding campsite cooking and clean-up. Rangers expect visitors to remove items such as foil from the fire circles after use, Gray said.
Strict animal rules
Rules vary at different parks. At Yellowstone, pets are allowed in certain areas but not on trails. Nash advises leaving the family dog at home. “This is a challenging place to bring pets. It may not be the best environment,” he said.
All national parks prohibit the feeding of wildlife. Parks may also have specific rules about different animals. At Yellowstone, for example, visitors must keep a great distance — about the of a length of football field — from large animals. “Most of the big animals in the park can run at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour and people can’t,” Nash said.
Large animals may seem oblivious to visitors, but Nash said they are quite aware. Visitors in violation of the distance policy can be ticketed by a ranger. “Most of the time, we just warn folks,” Nash said. “If we point it out to you and you ignore us, you could get a ticket.”
Traffic jams and rules
Rangers are the law enforcement officers of national parks and have the authority to ticket drivers for speeding. “People don’t plan enough time to visit, and they get in a hurry,” Nash said. “That’s a safety issue and in the end it can be a pocket book issue.”
Visitors can avoid speeding and stay on schedule by researching a realistic travel time. Nash said travel time in national parks may be surprisingly long and visitors should plan extra time. “Just don’t think just because it says 30 miles on the map, you can drive there in 30 minutes,” Nash said.
Visitors should also prepare for traffic at major parks. The National Park Service website, NPS.gov, offers tips on how visitors can avoid traffic during the high season. Some parks have certain areas that are less visited and may help visitors enjoy a more quiet experience.
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