On land, ranger says the key words are water, limits and bears
Memorial Day weekend kicks off the start of the summer recreation season, and forestry officials say those
planning on heading out into nature need to keep an eye on safety, because nature sometimes isn’t safe.
“With this being the first big weekend of the year, people may be a little antsy to get outside and they may overdo it,” said Keith Kelly, district ranger for the Watauga Ranger District of the U.S. Forestry Service.
Kelly said three of the most important things for people to remember when hiking are: staying hydrated, knowing their own limitations and knowing how to detect signs of bear activity in the area.
“These are things people really need to think about while they are hiking,” he said.
Forestry service recreation areas have bulletin boards posted at trail heads and these can be a source of important information according to Kelly.
“On all of our bulletin boards we have posted at the trail heads we have safety information,” Kelly said. Much of the safety information is general, such as what to do if you become lost, warnings for wildlife such as bears and snakes, and general safety tips about weather and trail hazards. Some of the bulletin boards also feature specific safety information for that particular area. For example, the bulletin board at the trail head for Laurel Falls offers waterfall safety tips and warns against strong currents in the water.
Using common sense can also improve safety while in nature, Kelly said. “We get people who get courageous and start jumping into pools off rocks and things like that and generally unsafe behaviors,” he said.
Kelly said hikers and campers must also be bear aware when taking advantage of outdoor recreation opportunities.
He said there are some general rules to remember when recreating in bear country: do not leave food out unattended; do not cook or store food in or near your tent or sleeping area; keep a clean campsite, do not leave trash lying around; keep children and pets close at hand; never approach a bear; and most importantly never feed bears.
Safety information from the U.S. Forestry Service recommends that if a bear approaches you, attempt to frighten it away by yelling and waving your arms or banging pans together. If the bear is persistent in approaching, they recommend moving away slowly to a secure area, do not run, and if you are in a group stay together. To avoid surprise encounters with bears, the U.S. Forestry service recommends wearing a bell or other noisemaking device or singing while you hike.
One of the most important things a person can do before setting off on a hiking or camping trip is to make a plan and let someone else know your plan, Kelly said.
“Especially if you are going to be by yourself make sure you let someone know where you are going, when you plan to be back and things like that,” he said.
Hikers and campers are also advised to keep a weather eye out and watch for changes in temperature as well as sudden storms, which can cause flash flooding. It is recommended to dress in layers so that you can easily adjust to changing temperatures.
According to the U.S. Forestry Service, approximately 2 million people visit the Cherokee National Forest each year to take advantage of recreation opportunities from hiking, hunting and camping to fishing, picnicking and mountain biking.
“To ensure that your visit to the great outdoors is enjoyable and memorable always put safety first,” says a safety booklet from the Forestry Service. “Before you participate in any outdoor activity think about the basic rules of safety that apply.”