Sunday, May 27, 2012

Preventative Search and Rescue in Zoar Valley

Perhaps the problems with SAR teams, is that we respond after the event happens.  By the time we get the call out, arrive, organize, and venture out  - the subject is severely hypothermic and out of lifelines.  So what if we worked to prevent these wilderness accidents in the first place? 

I like to call this activity Preventative Search and Rescue.

Yes, our team has started doing outreach, letting people know they should carry the "10 Essentials" and always file a trip plan.  But -could we, as SAR volunteers, be doing more? 

With over 4,000 acres of rugged terrain, the Zoar Valley Unique Area and  MUA (Multiple Use Area) is a treasure of Western New York and a place where one can experience pristine forests.  It is the perfect place to recharge from the stresses of the work week and reconnect with your natural self.

However, over the years it has also become a favored place to "party."  (I'm not sure why I used quotation marks around the word "party" except to show that one person's party is a community's mess.)  One of the most popular places to party and hang out is the Big Falls on the South Branch of the Cattaraugus Creek.

Yes, there are "No Trespassing" signs up
For years, people have left the Forty Road access and walked upstream to The Falls.  The problem was - they were off State land and on private property while doing it.  Of course, this area is one of the more dangerous areas in WNY - numerous rope teams, SAR, Fire, and Law Enforcement resources had to be called out because of lost, confused, or injured individuals.  In a few instances, people died on the steep rocks and in the quick moving water.

I'm not sure if I should even mention the vandalism and pollution left in the wake of many visitors.  

Anyway, I am giving too much background here...

The shale walls of Zoar Valley are beautiful in their fragility. 
My SAR team partnered with The Nature Conservancy, the Nature Sanctuary Society of Western New York, and other private landholders to help protect this fragile area in South Branch of the Cattaraugus Creek Gorge.  We maintained a presence in this beautiful area and let people know of the dangers ahead and inform them that they should turn around.  

As we inform flip-flop clad people headed toward the no-no zone that they are liable to incur a $250 day-use fee (AKA-fine) they turn around and look for adventure elsewhere.  I also realize, that there is one less person that will have to be rescued out of this gorge.  

Yes, this is preventative SAR at its best.  

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