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Crowding, Drought, and Increased Wildlife Activity Highlight Emergency Procedures on Local Trails

Robert Barnhart

With summer now in full swing and hundreds, if not thousands, of people getting out on local trails systems each day, the chances of a serious accident happening are elevated. KPCW spoke with local experts and has more on what people should be mindful of on the trails and what steps to take if there is an accident.


The Wasatch Back’s trails have experienced an explosion in popularity in recent years. That popularity combined with this summer’s drought conditions make for a unique set of circumstances out on the mountains.


Executive Director of the Mountain Trails Foundation Lora Smith said with Utah in the middle of a very dry summer, local wildlife is more stressed than normal and might be encountered at unusual times of day as they search for water. 


“The animals are stressed,” Smith said. “With the drought, we’re getting lots of wildlife reports. Coyotes, bears, badgers, actually several badger sightings have been reported in the Round Valley area, so be careful, they’re dangerous animals and are also really stressed.”


Smith said dogs should always be on a leash and if a wild animal is encountered on a trail, they should always be given plenty of space.


If an accident occurs that needs medical assistance, Park City Fire District’s Logan Rodriguez said the best way to get help is to call 911. 


Just last week, a mountain biker crashed near Jeremy Ranch and called a friend for help after sustaining a head injury. The friend then called 911 to report the accident, but rescue crews did not have an exact location and could not reach the victim until after dark. Rodriguez called that a worst-case scenario and said not only should 911 be your first call, you should stay on the line with dispatch until help arrives. 


“Oftentimes, we’ll get called to a certain spot and then they’re no longer there and they never communicate it, so that just pulled a lot of resources out of town up on the mountain that now are looking for a lost patient,” said Rodriguez. “Communication with our dispatch is key. Our dispatch is great at trying to keep them on the phone until we get there, but sometimes, if they’re really high up on the mountains, that could be anywhere from 10 minutes an hour before we get to them.” 


The PCFD has seven stations throughout the area ready to immediately respond to an emergency. Most of those stations have a dirtbike with medical supplies capable of quickly meeting a victim on the mountain before determining if additional help is needed. Rodriguez said rapid response is a huge asset for emergency crews.


“That does a couple of things for us,” he said. “It gets someone there really fast to let the rest of the responding crews know what the actual injuries are, what the condition of the patient is, and then what’s the best access? Beyond the motos, we have side-by-sides or ATVs with stokes and litters that we can extricate the patients off the mountain if they’re unable to walk on their own or if they just simply need a ride, got a hurt limb, we can put them in the front seat and get them down as safe as possible. Either one of those two vehicles is at any given station.”


Rodriguez said local fire crews train annually for trail rescues and unless there is a dedicated bike patrol like the ones at Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley, the fire district will be responding to your backcountry emergency.


The most current trail conditions can be found on the Mountain Trails Foundation website and the PCMR and Deer Valley websites, respectively.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.