Porkies Sees Increase in Search and Rescues

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IncaRoads
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Porkies Sees Increase in Search and Rescues

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"Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park sees ‘staggering’ increase in search and rescues"
Updated Sep 11, 2020; Posted Sep 11, 2020
By Emily Bingham | ebingham@mlive.com

ONTONAGON, MICH. -- On a recent overnight in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, where he works as park supervisor, Michael Knack watched as hiker after hiker trudged past wearing backpacks that appeared “agonizingly heavy” for the person wearing them.

It was the kind of scene Knack has witnessed far more than usual at the Porkies this year — overwhelmed, likely inexperienced visitors tackling the park’s rugged terrain — and one to which he attributes an astonishing spike in search-and-rescue calls so far in 2020.

In the roughly 10 weeks between June 22, when the park reopened its campgrounds for the year, and September 7, marking Labor Day weekend’s unofficial end to summer, park rangers answered 30 search-and-rescue or medical extraction calls from stranded visitors.

In comparison, the park saw only six search-and-rescue calls in all of 2019.

Knack called this summer’s volume of calls “staggering.”

“Thirty in a very short window is an alarmingly high number,” he said.

Knack said the number of rescues likely can be tied to a surge of new and inexperienced visitors this year, echoing the 2020 trend of more people trying out outdoor recreation as a social-distancing alternative to other travel and leisure activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would attribute a lot of [the rescues] to first timers coming out ill prepared or underprepared,” he said. “People are underestimating the difficulty and distance involved in their hikes. They’re biting off more than they can chew.”

Most of those 30 medical emergency calls were for overexertion, heat exhaustion, or lower-leg injuries owing to inappropriate footwear, Knack said.

Illustrating the point, Knack said park staff has seen visitors unboxing brand-new hiking boots right before embarking on a hike — a wilderness no-no, as most hiking boots need time to break in. In other instances, staff saw visitors unpacking small recreational kayaks, sales tags still attached, to learn how to paddle on Lake Superior — a notoriously unpredictable lake better suited for larger, sturdier sea kayaks (and more paddling experience).

The Porkies, Michigan’s only state park to be designated as wilderness, sprawl out over 60,000 acres of rough topography with weather that can change abruptly, adding an extra layer of challenge to rescue efforts. In most cases, the best tool to extract an injured visitor is a special wheeled stretcher called a spokes basket (also known as a litter, or “wheel-a-body"), which requires the combined strength of several rangers moving at about one mile per hour.

Looking ahead to the number of fall and winter camping reservations already made suggests that the park will continue to be busy in the coming months, Knack said. And while he loves to see new people exploring Michigan’s beautiful outdoors, he urges visitors to come to the park prepared.

“My message would be, please look at a map. Please look at the topography. Please bring your 10 essentials. Please stop at the visitor center and talk to a ranger if you have any questions at all — about weather conditions, trail difficulty, or even camping gear questions,” he said. We’d be happy to answer them ahead of time, before you may end up in a situation where you need assistance later."

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dcclark
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Re: Porkies Sees Increase in Search and Rescues

Post by dcclark »

I'm not surprised. There are some stories on the Porkies facebook group that will curl your toenails.

Has anyone heard anything similar from Isle Royale this year?

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