Every year, an average of 150 people lose their lives in one of the 408 national parks in the United States. Grand Canyon National Park was the site of the most recent death when a visitor stepped off the path and fell to her death.
35-year-old Colleen Burns of Orlando, Florida, fell 400 feet when she stepped off the edge at Ooh Aah Point just hours after posting a photo of the scenery there. Burns, who was vacationing with two friends, had been walking the Kaibab Trail, taking pictures of the sunset.
Jessica Roman, one of the two friends accompanying Burns, related that Burns had stepped out of the way of a gentleman who was trying to squeeze in when Burns “kind of got tripped up on her own feet and fell backwards, fell into the canyon.”
While an average of 150 deaths annually in 408 national parks may seem concerning, when that number of accidental deaths is noted in the context of nearly 300 million park visitors each year, the national parks have a remarkable safety record. The two leading causes of death in national parks – drowning and vehicular accidents – could just as well happen anywhere and are not unique to the park system.
Falls, such as the one Burns incurred at the third leading cause of death in the national park system. It is imperative that park visitors stay on posted trails and follow any instructions provided by park guides or signage.
Drownings and vehicle accidents can be prevented in the national parks by following the same safety rules as on public streets, highways and beaches. Extra caution is always warranted when in areas and situations unfamiliar to a person, such as the national parks would be, in addition to factoring in the many other visitors there under the same circumstances.
Deaths from heat or cold exposure, which average 2 and 3 per year respectively, can be avoided by visitors being adequately prepared for the weather and circumstances of the particular park they are visiting and the activities in which they plan to participate.
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