For many, after spending an enormous amount of time indoors during the pandemic, going for a hike seems like a good idea. Just make sure you know where you are going, because if you get lost and decide to rely on 911 for relief, you could be billed for thousands of dollars.
This happened to a family in Florida and is becoming more common across the country, with states charging hikers for getting lost and using state resources to be found. As previously stated by the New York Times, The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in the number of inexperienced hikers heading outdoors, which has increased costs and pressure on search and rescue teams. The Florida family hiked Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire for two miles without flashlights or water and were later found by four police officers.
Now, the state of New Hampshire plans to bill the family for the cost of the rescue. Col. Kevin Jordan of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department told the New York Times that the bill could be around $ 5,000. According to Colonel Jordan, it’s not something the state of New Hampshire does often, but “one thing I’m pretty strict about is not being prepared because these 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 allowing the state to seek reimbursement if a rescued person was found to be negligent. Idaho, Maine, Vermont, and Oregon have similar laws that allow the state to charge people for the cost of their rescues.
More recently, Hawaii has bills pending that would allow search and rescue workers to be reimbursed by travelers who intentionally strayed from hiking trails and then had to be rescued. And last year, South Dakota passed a law that would require negligent hikers to pay up to $ 1,000 per person. Last June, the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board voted to limit access to certain trails during periods of high temperatures, as cases of unprepared hikers dressing poorly and not bringing water increased dramatically. .
Anna DeBattiste, chief information officer for the Colorado Search and Rescue Association, told the New York Times that some search and rescue teams have seen the volume of calls increase from 200% to 300%. Even with the numbers rising dramatically, the Colorado Search and Rescue Association is not charging for its services. However, the state has introduced legislation to provide more benefits to rescuers. DeBattiste added: “If you start the fire in your kitchen, negligently, you are not charged for the fire department to come and put it out,” she said. “We know from experience that people who think they are going to be billed delay the call.”
Unfortunately, many search and rescue teams in the United States are voluntary organizations. The limited number of volunteers and resources puts a strain on these organizations. Chris Boyer, executive director of the National Association for Search and Rescue, said the pandemic has forced older and at-risk volunteer members to stay at home, shrinking their teams. Boyer’s organization doesn’t charge for rescues, saying if hikers need help, they shouldn’t waste time thinking about the potential costs. While the debate rages on, one thing is for sure, if you’re going for a hike, don’t hesitate to grab some water.