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Park Service Will Start Charging Adventurers for Their Own Rescues

September 02, 1993|MELISSA HEALY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — If you get caught in a blizzard during a mountain climb in a national park, getting plucked to safety no longer will be free, the National Park Service said Wednesday.

In an effort to trim costs, the Park Service will require mountain climbers and eventually other outdoor sportsmen to pay for their own rescues should their adventures turn into ordeals requiring search-and-rescue operations.

"With scarce dollars to manage our national parks, we should not be trying to foot all the bills for rescuing people who knowingly engage in very high-risk adventures," said Bonnie Cohen, an assistant interior secretary.

In 1992, the Park Service spent $3 million to rescue adventurers from a wide variety of perils, dispatching everything from dog sleds to specially equipped helicopters to pluck them from summits, stream beds and forests. Park Service spokesman Duncan Morrow said that the bulk of the service's rescues have been in Denali National Park in Alaska, home of Mt. McKinley, and at Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington.

Denali and Mt. Rainier will be the sites of the Park Service's pilot program, which will hold mountain climbers liable for the cost of their rescues starting sometime next spring, Morrow said. Over the next several months, Morrow said, the Park Service, search-and-rescue professionals and representatives of the climbing community will work with several underwriting companies to negotiate the cost and terms of insurance policies that would cover a climber's search-and-rescue expenses.

The Park Service is expected to extend its new policy to other activities that often result in search-and-rescue operations, including white-water rafting, kayaking, rock climbing and hang gliding.

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