Wyoming Search and Rescue Volunteers Feeling the Influx of Numbers Amid Novice Wilderness Seekers

by Katie Maloney
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With lockdowns during the pandemic, there has been an influx of wilderness seekers and outdoor adventurers. Is this good or bad?

What do you do when you can’t stay indoors any longer? You go outside. You find socially distanced outdoor events to attend. And when those aren’t available, you go for solo hiking, biking, kayaking, snowmobiling, or other outdoor adventures. At least, that’s been the case for thousands of Wyoming residents this past year. According to Kenna Tanner, director of the Tip Prime Search and Rescue crew from the rugged Wind River Mountain, tens of thousands more people visited the area this year than in previous years. Which, normally, would be great! Most outdoorsy people love to see other people getting in tune with nature. But that’s not necessarily the case when thousands of inexperienced hikers make their way to one of the more treacherous areas outside of state parks.

Many of these inexperienced adventurers ultimately find themselves in dangerous situations and have to call the rescue team for help. Any incidents that occur within the parks are managed by the Nationwide Park Service. However, people who find themselves hurt in the more rugged wilderness areas outside the parks, have to rely on volunteer-based rescue teams like Tip Prime. Volunteers for Tip Prime have policed the Wind River mountain areas since 1980. And for most of that time, the areas they work in have been kept secret and were only ever traversed by the most skilled explorers. However, with the uptick in adventurers since the start of the pandemic, more and more people have ventured to the area. And more and more people have gotten hurt and needed to be rescued. And this puts a real strain on the volunteer-based search and rescue team.

How Do We Keep Wilderness Seekers Safe And Responsible?

Places like Canada or Switzerland have skilled, full-time rescue groups. These groups manage everything from lost vacationers to deadly wilderness accidents. However, most operations in America are managed by volunteer organizations like Tip Prime and are overseen by local sheriffs. As Tip Prime’s director, Kenna Tanner is the team’s only full-time employee. Everyone else on the 40-person team is a volunteer. And each one often contributes their own money for tools and coaching. Clearly, these people are dedicated to helping people on the trails. And that’s awesome. But without steady pay or any resources to support them, Tanner says it can be easy for people to get stressed out and quit.

So what’s the answer? How can we make trails both accessible and safe to people who want an adventure? Perhaps developing full-time positions for rescuers across the country could be a great start in managing safety. However, throwing caution to the wind because you know that help is available if you need it is not the answer either. As Outsiders, we are passionate about getting outside and we encourage everyone to do so. We believe that an incredible amount of growth and wisdom exists outside. That said, we are also advocates for personal responsibility. If there’s a wilderness you want to explore or a new outdoor activity you want to check out, go for it! But take some time to learn about that trail or that activity before you throw on your hiking boots or purchase a new kayak. Learn how to participate safely and responsibly. Your own adventure and the adventures of all the people who come after you will be better for it.

Outsider.com