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Are National Parks Like a Backyard?

That is a very important question to consider for many reasons.

If we take a casual Sunday stroll in a park we tend to assume it is a "civilized" place and don't take very many safety precautions.

If we are planning a "first" or unique (for us) camping trip, we sometimes don't know what to expect, and so, we base our assumptions on what we do know...our back yards and our local parks and the country side.

But...there have been major changes in the way wild lands are managed. Have you noticed the number of stories coming across the news about bears in neighborhoods.... mountain lions attacking park visitors... experienced hikers taking deadly falls...?

Safety is a precaution...and can make a potentially distressing experience part of a successful adventure, if you plan ahead and take proper safety steps for the activity.

In doing volunteer work with a national park in the Los Angeles area (actually butting up against Hollywood) I discovered some cautionary facts:

  • National parks do not put signs up to warn about dangers, etc. unless they are absolutely necessary
  • Rattlesnakes, poisonous spiders, coyotes and even mountain lions can be found in national parks, even in urban areas
  • It is important to take safety tools with you at all times...not just when you take very long hikes. Water, jacket, poison treatments, etc. can be needed if there is a minor problem, such as a fall or a bite.
  • It is important to sign in at trail heads to let people know you are in the wilds. It is important to take a companion with you when hiking in the wilds (or not so wilds).

Parks are no longer "civilized"...we are recognizing the necessity of the balance of nature, and the US National Parks and other departments charged with keeping our biodiversity, our wildlife, our weather tact, are making dramatic changes in how the wild are managed.

So the answer to the original question is ... "now really"... national (and many state) parks are not at all like our backyards.

I recently received a mailing by the Yosemite park staff and it contained some startling statistics that actually caused me to write this issue.

  • National Park administers 81 miles of the Merced River, beginning at 10,000 feet in the High Sierra and dropping to 2,000 feet near El Portal. Each section of a Wild and Scenic River must be classified as wild, scenic, or recreational to establish appropriate levels of protection. Issues that have already been identified include natural and cultural resource protection, development of lands and facilities, user capacities (i.e., recreation types and levels), and scenic values.

    (That's a huge job!)

  • Siddiq Parekh, of Diamond Bar, California, died on Saturday when he was accidentally swept over Nevada Fall on the John Muir Trail. Parekh, 31, was hiking with three friends on a two-day trip to climb Half Dome. He stopped near the Nevada Fall Footbridge to soak his feet in the Merced River and slipped on algae-covered rocks into the swift current and was washed over the 594-feet waterfall. Parekh was an experienced Yosemite hiker and had made several trips to the park. Parekh's fall was witnessed by one of his friends who called rangers on a cell phone. Rangers using a helicopter were able to recover Parekh's body a few hours later. Signs at the bridge use strong language and international symbols to warn hikers of the dangers of entering the water in that area. This marks the fourth death at Nevada Fall in the last five years.
(That's a higher death rate than we have in most West LA communities.)

*Activity Update: July 4 - 10, 1999
Bear break-ins have been on the rise in the Valley. This week, fifteen vehicles were damaged by bears - in both parking lots and campgrounds. The majority of the bear damage in the Valley occurred at Curry Village and most vehicles contained food.

  • July 5 - 11, 1998
  • Vehicles broken into by bears in parking lots: 54
  • Bear damage report in park campgrounds: 12
  • Total bear incidents year to date: 526
  • Total property damage year to date: $249,935
( isn't civilized in parking lots, either.......)

* Dark Fire- YNP-077
Located one mile south of the Tioga Road, west of the Yosemite Creek Campground. At an elevation of approximately 8200 feet, near the top of an open granite knoll, the fire was started by lightning on Tuesday 7/13 and discovered Wednesday 7/14 during aerial patrol. It is about 20x20' in size. Fuels are sparse, and the area received heavy rain during the thunderstorm. A low survival and spread rate is predicted. The fire will be monitored at regular intervals either on the ground or through aerial reconnaissance.

(And then there are weather surprises...)

And then there is the reason we brave these hazards and dangers to experience the wild:

Mesa Verde NP (CO) - California Condors: On the morning of June 30th, two California Condors were seen flying over the escarpment around the fire lookout station at Park Point - the first recorded appearance of this endangered species at the park. They did not return the next day. Fire lookout Bob Erner shared the rare event with park visitors for an hour. "It was the most awesome wildlife viewing experience I have ever witnessed," said Erner. "They came so close over us that we could see details of their feathers, numbered wing tags, and one we watched casually scratching itself as they circled." The condors received quite a bit of attention from the park's resident birds as well.

Many birds, including several turkey vultures, flew out to investigate the giant newcomers, only to be dwarfed by the condors' nine-foot wingspans. Mesa Verde's natural resource management staff made inquiries into the identity of the two condors. According to the Peregrine Fund, they were one-year-old birds released in wild country of northern Arizona last fall after being raised in captivity. The program's goal is to establish a second breeding population in Arizona as a safeguard against the loss of the only other remaining population in southern California.

The Peregrine Fund is a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to raising rare birds of prey and releasing them into the wild to help recover endangered populations. They monitor the twenty condors currently released in Arizona on a daily basis, using a miniature radio transmitter attached to a tiny harness fitted to each condor.

Since their releases, these two young condors have ranged as far north as Flaming Gorge near the Wyoming/Utah border, as far south as Flagstaff, and now to at least the North Rim of Mesa Verde National Park. It is quite common for immature condors to go on long journeys to expand their knowledge of their world and search for potential feeding grounds and even future breeding grounds. In all likelihood, they will return to their current home range in Arizona within a few days.

To explore wilds of Yosemite from your computer screen, try this can even sign up for the news letter updates:

Here's to a safe and challenging nature break for you...prepare so you can survive the unexpected!

PS: Email me if you have "backyard safety tips" that will be helpful for our readers.

For more articles about California Nature

California Beach Communities
Common Native Plants of Southern California Uplands
Natural Los Angeles Resources
Common Native Wildlife of Southern California
Common Native Birds of Southern California
Attracting California birds with native plants
Los Angeles Urban Forest
There's a Park Near You in Los Angeles
News about the SoCal Environment
Least Terns Preserve on the LA Beach
Visiting California Beach Communities - An Overview
Los Angeles Area Nature Link List