Getting Lost on a Hike Could Cost You up to $5,000
As resources dwindle for rescue services, states are starting to push back.
For many, after spending an inordinate amount of time inside during the pandemic, going on a hike seems like a good idea. Just be sure you know where you're going because if you do get lost and decide to rely on 911 for relief, you could get a bill for thousands of dollars.
This situation happened to one Florida family and is becoming a more regular occurrence all over the country, with states billing hikers for getting lost and using state resources to be found. As previously reported by the New York Times, The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an uptick of inexperienced hikers taking to the outdoors, and as a result, this has increased costs and pressure on search and rescue teams. The family from Florida went for a two-mile hike on Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire without flashlights or water and were later found by four police officers.
Now, the state of New Hampshire plans to charge the family for the cost of the rescue. Colonel Kevin Jordan of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department told the New York Times that the bill could be close to $5000. According to Colonel Jordan, it's not something the state of New Hampshire often does, but "one thing I am pretty strict on is being unprepared, because those are literally the things that cost lives."
To help curb this occurrence, states are starting to penalize hikers who take unnecessary risks. In 2008, New Hampshire passed a law that allowed the state to seek reimbursement if a rescued person was thought to be negligent. Idaho, Maine, Vermont, and Oregon have similar laws that allow the state to bill people for the cost of their rescues.
More recently, Hawaii has bills pending that would allow search and rescue workers to get reimbursement from travelers who have intentionally strayed from hiking trails then subsequently had to be rescued. And just last year, South Dakota passed a law that would force negligent hikers to pay up to $1,000 per person. This past June, Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board voted to limit access to certain trails during periods of high temperatures because cases of unprepared hikers who were dressing poorly and not bringing water dramatically spiked.
Anna DeBattiste, a public information officer for the Colorado Search and Rescue Association, told the New York Times that some search and rescue teams have seen an increase in call volume of 200% to 300%. Even with the dramatic uptick in numbers Colorado Search and Rescue Association does not charge for its services. However, the state has introduced legislation to provide more benefits for rescue workers. DeBattiste added, "If you light your kitchen on fire, negligently, you don't get charged for the fire department to come and put it out," she said. "We know from experience that people who think they're going to be charged delay calling."
Unfortunately, many search and rescue teams in the United States are volunteer organizations. Limited volunteers and resources put a serious strain on these organizations. Chris Boyer, executive director of the National Association for Search and Rescue, says that the pandemic forced older and at-risk volunteer members to stay home, shrinking their teams. Boyer's organization does not charge for rescues, saying that if hikers need help, they should not waste time thinking about potential costs. While the debate wages on, one thing is certain, if you're going on a hike, please take water.