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National Park officials offer hiking safety tips

Circumstances can go awry for even the most experienced Smoky Mountains hiker.

While hiking is a great way to relax and enjoy nature, hikers need to be prepared and know that circumstances can go awry for even the most experienced and knowledgeable.

The search for a missing hiker, 53-year-old Susan Clements from Cincinnati, has highlighted one possible danger for visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"We work hard to make sure folks get safety information when they plan their trip here in the park," Park spokesperson Julena Campbell said. "One of the things we like to remind people is plan ahead and prepare. So, think a little bit about where you plan to hike."

Campbell suggested the following:

  • Tell someone ahead of time what trail you are hiking on and what time you expect to return. "And that way if for some reason you are delayed, the folks who are waiting at home or know when you're supposed to come out of the backcountry are able to contact officials to get a search started," Campbell said.
  • Pack items on the 10 Essentials list. "It's everything that simple from a map, to water, to having snacks, rain gear," Campbell said. "We even suggest bringing a flashlight or a head lamp."
  • If you come across wildlife, give it distance--it's the law. "Here in the Park it's actually a law that you have to stay at least 50 yards away from bear and elk," Campbell said. "If a bear approaches you, you want to back away slowly."
  • You will more likely get in trouble from dehydration or injury, Campbell says, so bring more water than you think you'll need and wear proper footwear!
  • Make yourself easy to rescue. "Folks should always be prepared to do a bit of a 'self-rescue,'" Campbell said. "Whether that means getting themselves out of the backcountry if they've suffered a small injury or at least be able to stabilize themselves and have the basic essentials that they would need to potentially spend the night in the woods."
  • Hike with a partner or in a group.
  • Stay on the trails.
  • If you get lost or disoriented, stay put on the trails. "If the Park is alerted you are missing, and we have to start a search for you, generally the first place we are going to go is the last place you were seen. So if you are still in that general area and you haven't moved, we have a much greater chance of finding you quickly," Campbell said.

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